Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Mortification and Migraines

Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ said: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself. Matt. 16:24

I can't get over how quickly the time is passing. Sept. is coming to an end and with it comes an exhortation from St. Alphonsus on mortification. I know this is not a popular topic, but practicing mortification elevates a soul to God, so well worth your time to read these words from St. Alphonsus:

"Every Christian is bound to practice mortification. With regard to those things we may lawfully enjoy, mortification is not obligatory, but it is very useful and meritorious.

"If you deny your body lawful pleasures, it is not apt to seek unlawful ones; but if you indulge in all the lawful enjoyments you will soon cross the line into forbidden territory.

I love that the Lord our God is so generous with joys and pleasures of life. They are for our enjoyment, but at the same time, we may deny ourselves and make a sacrifice. St. Francis Borgia, while hunting, would cast his eyes down at the moment the falcon seized his prey, to deprive himself of the pleasure of such a sight. We too, can deny ourselves sweets or meats, and many other simple pleasures throughout the day as a discipline.

In the same way, if we suffer from chronic aches and pains, it is an opportunity to bear them without complaints. So my dear readers, if I ever complain about a migraine, remind me to offer it up. Thanks be to God, my health is vastly better now, that when the migraines do come, as they did this weekend,  it is easier to unite myself to Christ crucified and offer my suffering for the conversion of souls. 

St. Alphonsus likens mortification to having to drink bitter medicine to heal our bodies. If the physician had misplaced sympathy for his patient, it is cruelty. How well I've known this since I was a child, having to take bitter pills to clear parasitic infections. And as much as I hated my mother for shoving those pills down my throat, for the horrible side effects, over time I regained my health. Later I was grateful. But during those miserable weeks of treatment, my mother, ever patient, ever loving, sat beside me, taking my hateful words and returning them with words of comfort.

St. Alphonsus says, "It is certainly true that the world and the devil are great enemies to our salvation; but the greatest enemy of all is our own body because it is always with us." Oh, this cuts to the core ... we ourselves are our own worst enemies. We are attached to our thoughts, our tongues, our hands. Ouchie ... it's a constant battle to gain self-mastery.

So what are the advantages of mortification? St. Alphonsus says, "By mortification we may expiate the temporal punishment due to our sins." Tell yourself it is a little purgatory. "Mortification raises the soul to God."

"It is proper to animals to gratify their senses; it is characteristic of angels to do the Will of God ... we become like angels when we strive to do God's Will, but we become like animals when we seek to gratify our senses. Either the soul must subject the body or the body will make the soul its slave."

I have focused too much on exterior mortification, but there is such a thing as interior mortification. St. Alphonsus says, "it consists in restraining our inordinate self-love and self-will."

Although our sinful nature makes it impossible to be completely free from self-love, we can keep it in check. Pray this: "O God, do not let me fall prey to my passions, which rob me of Thy holy fear and of reason itself."

St. Alphonsus reminds us: "Man's life on earth is a warfare (Job 7:1). He who encounters an enemy in battle must have his weapons in hand to defend himself; if he neglects to fight, he is lost. No matter how many victories we may have won, we cannot afford to lay down our arms; for our passions, in spite of repeated defeats, are never entirely destroyed." They are like weeds that crop up again and again even if think we've cut them from the roots.

This is why I have Ephesians 6:11-20 taped on my kitchen cabinet. We're talking spiritual warfare here: Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Notes from the Carolinas SCBWI Conference

Deana and her mentor Lisa Kline
Deana (my face-to-face critter) and me.
I brought a sales copy of Ten Easter Eggs
to show-n-tell at the book signing.
Me and Becky.
Next year we have to get
Butt and Underpants guy
to pose with Becky.

Emma Dryden and me

I have no tidbits to share about what editors and agents want. Zero. That's because I parked my butt in Emma Dryden's class the entire time. If you ever have the chance to study with her, do it. She is a pro! Some of this you all know -- write hot, lusty first drafts. Anything goes. Revise with a cool head. Change it up. Try different viewpoints, voices, formats. I had minor heart-attack epiphanies while I did the writing exercises. I realized I should add a plot thread in the historical. Oh, good grief, do I really need to do this? Esp. after I cut out not one, but THREE plot threads already? You can see why this is both distressing and wonderful all at once. Instead of plodding on by myself, I have some insight into what will make my book better. Now if only the words would magically write themselves :) I think many of us had these moments in that classroom. I loved hearing excerpts of what others were working on and was impressed with the quality of writing during brainstorming.

My roomie Jacqueline and me
Keynotes were fabulous. Linda Ashman spoke about the lessons she's learned from twenty years of writing picture books. I'll share two: cultivate patience. Read and write poetry. I'm working on the first. It's my *word* for the year. Linda is incredibly gifted and of course, by the time I made it to the bookstore, all hers were sold out. I did get a look while sitting in the book signing line. And I just ordered Myra Cohn Livingston's Making Poems.

Carrie Ryan gave the closing keynote. Writers WRITE. Make time for it. Make it a priority. I cracked up over not wasting precious time telling someone on the internet that they are wrong! Ahem ...

I came home to this: key lime pie, some fresh veggies from the garden, and my sweet family. Now it's time to put all that I learned from Emma into practice. I might have a few less hair on my head, or maybe it will turn whiter .. but the writing calls to me. I'm sure some of Emma's wisdom will seep into my future posts, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why I Love Sept.

This little fellow *is* a pocket hamster. He's very much attached to my daughter and loves the sound of her voice. He'll clamber up the cage to be picked up or a treat. It's so much fun to watch him nibble on a piece of banana or carrot. Sometimes, he'll taste your finger, but has not drawn blood yet! Of course, he has nothing to do with Sept.

Despite the school/sports busyness, it's good to see the kids working hard and growing. It takes a couple of weeks to adjust and believe me, there is grousing every fall. But I am happy to see how the organized sports teach our children many, many life skills, particularly discipline. It carries over into so many other areas of their life. I highly recommend it, even if your kids are not athletic superstars. Mine aren't. They take after me ...  School days also provide me with several hours of quiet, not just for the writing, but the praying/thinking/daydreaming that is so essential in a writer's life. Even as I do the household chores, I can be thinking about the stories I'm working on. I take leisurely walks with the dog, sit out on the back porch to read, write and just soak in all the beauty. One of these days I'll have to record the symphony in my backyard. Having the quiet during the day balances our busy evenings.

It has cooled off considerably with the afternoon storms we've been having. Alas, the mosquitoes haven't quit biting me yet ...  Soon, soon. I love Sept. because it is the month my husband was born. He's growing after God's own heart. I say this to encourage those of you who mourn not introducing your children to Jesus when they were young or those who mourn the loss of faith in your adult children. Conversion of heart, the turning away from sin, can and does happen in adults. In fact, Michael was raised without God. But his heart began to turn as he read the Bible stories to our children. I cannot say I understand what went through his mind as he cast away his old thinking but he was falling in love with Jesus. And during RCIA we talked incessantly about Jesus, this God-Man, as we began to know Him. It was so much easier for me to return to faith, but in Michael I saw a greater humility as he confronted his own past and admitted that what he based his life on was wrong. This is no small thing for a grown, intelligent man. We joked about how squeaky clean he was when he was baptized. I admit I was a little bit jealous. Alas, we muck up our soul on a regular basis with all the trivial things, so thank God for confession and confessors.

That Easter Vigil, when our children were baptized and confirmed as well, I realized we've finally done right by them. But they will still need to embrace it on their own when they leave home. They will have to make a choice. Are they with Jesus or against? There is no half-way, no sitting on the fence, no wishy-washy. So keep the faith and keep praying. Two books my husband recommends for fathers: Fr. Alain Delagneau's Advice for Successful Families and Joseph's Way: the Call to Fatherly Greatness by Devin Schadt. Michael has given away so many copies of Advice, I've lost count. It's a slim book, chock-full of the most practical advice for families.

And last, I love Sept. for the SCBWI Carolinas conference. What perfect timing, even if I have to leave my sweetie for a weekend. We have a terrific chapter and I always enjoy being with like-minded folks. If you are in Charlotte this weekend, come say hello, have a cup of tea with me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo.  Michael picked up this book at the Irondale, AL monastery gift shop and read it in record time. I'm not surprised. Mother's life reads like a novel, full of unexpected twists and turns. I feel a bit sheepish that I didn't know much about her given that I listen to EWTN every chance I get.

I was so inspired reading her life story. Rita Rizzo was an unwanted child. Her father abandoned them. Her mother, depressed, clung to Rita, so much so that when she was sure she was being called to serve God, she had to do it on the sly. She left a note for her mother. Rita had a sharp tongue, a short temper, and bad health, not the stuff nuns are made of. Yet, God called this contemplative nun to share the Good News all over the world. And she said Yes. The love she has for Jesus overflows from the pages of this book. And it is this very love that causes problems for her. Mother fights with everybody including bishops behaving badly. I never realized how messed up things were.

This is a wonderful book about a woman who abandoned herself to God. Some wit and wisdom from Mother herself:

"Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach."

"Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous."

"Boldness should be the eleventh commandment."

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. I picked this up at Goodwill and the pages spill over with Julia's joie de vivre. I love how she dives into everything with both feet. This is another story of doing what you love, not counting the cost, but letting the chips fall where they may. The first half of the book reminded me of our time in Europe. Michael and I were like Paul and Julia, without kids, and highly indulgent. Our chief indulgence was gastronomical and even now, we have a tremendous appetite for good food and wine. We often spend an entire day cooking a gourmet meal. Our children are thoroughly spoiled and often sound like Anton Ego, the food critic from Ratatouille.

The second half of the book is about writing and publishing and experimenting and collaborating. But most of all, it's about persevering. What a magnum opus! I do not own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (my tastes run more towards Italian/Greek/Thai/Indian) but I have checked it out to learn some techniques and I just may get it for Dagny, who has a great love of cooking and would enjoy a book like this ... which is, I quote the editor-in-chief at Houghton Mifflin now  ... your manuscript is a work of culinary science as much as of culinary art. However ...  Yes, a rejection.

So write what you love, take all the time with it, and never give up!

A Story of Anti-Christ by Vladimir Sergaevitch Soloviev. This short story was published near the end of Soloviev's life in 1900. Today I doubt this could be published. It reads like a narrative outline, but the broad strokes are disturbingly true.

Briefly, after Japanese domination, Europe unites into a United States of Europe. A charismatic leader comes to the forefront preaching peace and unity. What's fascinating is that he does not denounce Jesus, but instead appreciates His teachings. "Christ brought the sword; I shall bring peace. Christ threatened the earth with the Day of Judgment. But I shall be the last judge, and my judgment will be not only that of justice but also that of mercy." However, he reduces Jesus and the Church to a good person and great institution, instead of the way to salvation. You see, there is no need for salvation since people are to help one another from earthly misery. Sound familiar? I will say no more. You can read the entire story here.

I will not forget this book in a long time and will always be suspicious of anyone who speaks too much of peace or becoming vegetarian.

I have several more books to share, but I'll save those for another time. What good books, bad books or disturbing books have you read lately?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Requiem Mass for Fr. Vincent Capodanno

Bouguereau (1825-1925) Soul to Heaven
Why in the world would we pray for someone who died during the Vietnam War? As our priest likes to remind us, Uncle Guido does not instantly become a saint upon death. But many funeral services focus on pastoral care of the family instead of offering prayers for the dead. Here is a great explanation of purgatory. In brief, a soul cannot enter heaven until it has achieved perfection and the purging away of sins or attachment to sins (come on, admit that you have favorite sins) is completed in purgatory.

And so we pray for the dead. We begin and end with the word Requiem, which means rest of the deepest kind. All the prayers are so beautiful, they bring tears to my eyes. This is how I want to go to my eternal rest. Listen to the IntroitEternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. And here is In ParadisumMay angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.

Servant of God, Father Vincent Robert Capodanno
Feb. 13, 1929 -- Sep. 4, 1967
Fr. Capodanno was serving the soldiers when he was killed. The boys' group in our parish is named in his honor. They meet regularly to pray, plan activities, and grow in virtue. It is training ground for becoming a man.

So today we pray for the soul of Fr. Capodanno. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Ps. 110:4

We are so grateful to have the Traditional Latin Mass in our parish. The priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in his somber black vestments and it's impossible not to think of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Oh, how it makes me want to be pleasing to my Maker, so that when I stand in front of Him, He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." That is all. Oh, let me not stumble now that I've found the Way, the Truth and the Life. I long to sing and write in heaven. Mass is the closest I get here on earth.

Yes, heaven is for real ... but remember, so is hell.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Heat is On

These chili peppers are HOT!!! I made a vegetable stew and does it set my mouth on fire. Oy! But it feels so good.

Our garden isn't doing all that great. The soil is sandy and the crabs, squirrels and deer eat whatever they can nab. My poor husband works plenty hard and I hate to make him spend all his spare time building a compost pile or a fence. Besides, every time he goes out to prune, he is attacked by poison ivy ... it's all over the place. Grrr. I think we'll stick to growing things in a pot on the porch, like these peppers. Our herbs are doing great too. 

Gardening is a great metaphor for writing. And right now my mood is conducive to writing short, writing with strict boundaries, and pruning. So tell me, how is your writing garden growing?