Wednesday, September 02, 2015

How to Outrun Armageddon (Or 5 Ways Keep Spiritually Fit)

Featured on Catholic Stand.

Someone’s idea of a practical joke was to register me for an advanced physical fitness class. The first day, our instructor marked our running time by ordering the entire class to run five lapsoutside the gym. I circled one block, panting in the heat, before I decided to hide until the final lap, when I rejoined staggering fitness buffs. I don’t know what I clocked, but I smelled fresher than the rest of them.
Needless to say, if I had to run for my life because Armageddon was chasing me, I probably won’t survive. But, I can find a good hideout spot for my survival kit and I live in hope that because I work hard at my spiritual fitness, when my body is out cold and flattened by a kingdom-come-stampede, my soul at least has a fighting chance of floating to the locker room of purgatory. Then I can receive the final cleansing before reaching the heavenly gates.
I have nothing against health, sports or fitness per se. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of kayaking and waterskiing; I don’t begrudge marathons or the Zumba if that’s your thing. However, I do think ESPN’s obsession with the pursuit of physical fitness for entertainment or Hollywood’s pursuit of the “perfect” body image has gone overboard to idolatry proportions. It’s rubbed off on us and needs be dethroned by spiritual fitness.
So, what does it take to be in advanced spiritual shape?
  1. Eucharist. Out of 168 hours in a week, God only commands for one Sunday Mass, roughly 1 ½ hours. To add another half an hour of daily Mass or two during the week isn’t that demanding and goes a long way in sustaining a healthy soul. The Catechism teaches that the Mass is at once a sacrifice, worship, and communion with Christ and His Body, the Church. From this Sacrament, we are sanctified by sacramental graces and sent out to the world as disciples so that we may fulfill God’s will for our lives. The Body of Christ contains all that is essential for a soul’s nourishment. John 6: 51 says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will have eternal life.”
  1. Examination of Conscience.   According to the Catechism: “A thorough examination of conscience is a prayerful reflection of our words and deeds in the light of the Gospel to determine how we have sinned against God.” On the USCCB website, there are tailor-made examinations based on the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, for children, youth, single or married people. St. Josemaria Escriva advised an examination must be conducted daily if we are to follow our Lord with sincerity. He added that, “your particular examination should be directed towards the acquisition of a certain virtue or the rooting out of a predominant defect.”
  1. Confession, otherwise known as the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, is not as Pope Francis said, “a psychiatric session that neglects the question or sin or a mental email to God that avoids a face to face encounter with God through a priest.” Precisely, the Catechism teaches that because sin is an offense against God and a rupture of communion with Him and the Church, the sacrament of penance as instituted by Christ in scripture, is necessary in order to return to full Communion with the Church. Through Confession, we acknowledge our sins, seek God’s mercy through his Church, who forgives in the name of Jesus. Then we return to full Communion with the Church, much like a delinquent gym member can return to privileges after settling fines with management.
How often should we confess? As often your examination of conscience compels you to. St. Pio suggested, “Confession is a soul’s bath. Even a clean and unoccupied room gathers dust. Return after a week, and you will see it needs dusting again.”
  1. Prayer and Scripture.  St. Ignatius defines prayer as two-way, “asking some favor, acknowledging faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, fears, projects desires, and in all things seeking his counsel.”  The Catholic Church has an inexhaustible list of traditional prayers like the morning offering, the noon angelus, the liturgy of the hours, nine-day novenas, or the rosary as a family prayer, to which promises attached. Or it could just be a simple glance toward heaven, as St. Therese defines.  The more important, and less emphasized focus is God’s input, which we find through meditation of scripture,  the inspired word of God. Apart from the traditional leccio divina, modern technology has enabled easy access to scriptural reflections through the Laudate app and websites www.wordamongus.org and www.blessedisshe.net.
  1. Fasting. Other than the Lenten practice of fasting and abstinence, Canon 1251 provides, “Abstinence from meat or some other food… is to be observed on all Fridays unless a solemnity happens to fall on a Friday.” The Catholic Bishops of the United States has allowed other forms of renunciation as discussed in its pastoral statement. But every Friday remains a day of “self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” Fasting trains our bodies that we are not of the world, and it strengthens our souls for fidelity to Christ and His Church.
If you find the advice of bishops and saints rigorous, you can always seek the spiritual direction of your priest. He, like a physical trainer, will know how to tailor your program to the state of your life and the welfare of your soul.
The urgent challenge is to prioritize an advance in spiritual fitness. Not because the fig trees are blossoming or there’s a comet tail in sight, but because Jesus said:
“Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, or about your body and what you are to wear…instead seek His kingdom, and all else will be given to you besides.” (Luke 12: 22, 31)

            +AMDG+

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Interview with Author Maria Thompson


What you are about to read is a privileged interview with Maria Thompson, author of  “See You in Heaven: the life and writings of Rosie Gil,” an inspiring and popularly endorsed book on blessed motherhood.  The interview is available on catholic 365
 

Maria, tell me what prompted you to write this book. 

            After my mom past away, we found many letters of encouragement that she wrote to her children. My dad shared these letters with several priests. After reading her letters, these priests advised my dad to speak with the Bishop about my mom's life and to share with him my mom's letters. They said, "Rosie is a Saint.”  My dad felt very awkward about speaking with the Bishop about this subject, so he did not make an appointment. After some time, these priests became even more adamant until finally, my dad made an appointment and shared my mother's story and writings with the Bishop. The Bishop was so welcoming and receptive and expressed to my dad that he could see why these priests were calling her a saint. He said the first thing that needed to be done was to write a book on her life.

            I already had written a little about my mother.  Father Angelus Shaughnessy O.F.M cap. had asked me to write about my mom through a daughter's eyes for The Arch Confraternity of Christian Mothers newsletter. So the Bishop instructed my dad to write with his daughter.

            When my dad gave me the Bishop’s instructions, I was a bit overwhelmed to say the least.  How could I write a book? I have five children and I am homeschooling. How could I ask the Lord to bless this endeavor of writing about "blessed motherhood" while I was putting my own "blessed motherhood" on the back burner? The book was written in the night [with the kids in bed] and with much help from my dad over the phone. This is how the book was born.

Is there a canonization process underway for your mom?

            The cause for canonization cannot be opened until the person has been deceased for five years. My mother died on December 26, 2010 (Feast of the Holy Family). So it has not been quite five years yet. However, the Bishop instructed us to begin writing her life because the first step is to make her story known. But we will just have to wait and see what Our Lord has planned for her when the time comes, what doors He will open. It is entirely in His hands.

Your mother was a pioneer in Catholic home schooling in Louisiana. What inspired her? How did she get started on homeschooling?

            One of the most exciting events as a mother in my mom's life was homeschooling. In 1981, Dr. Murray Norris, president of a Christian college in California and a father of 12 children, went on a speaking tour. He gave talks in our area on a pro-life and pro-family culture. He stayed at our home and he asked my mom and dad if they were homeschooling their children. My parents had never heard that terminology, "homeschooling", so they asked what that meant. He explained homeschooling and proceeded to tell them that he had helped one of our state legislators to write a bill (that became a law) that allows parents to teach their children at home in Louisiana. My mom had already taught her oldest child how to read at four years old. Teaching her children at home did not intimidate her.

            My dad, his brother, and two other families got together and organized the first homeschool organization in Louisiana, with the state representative that wrote this law on their board of directors. They named the school Saint Francis Academy and it is still operating in two states.

             I can't begin to tell you how much my mom loved teaching her children at home. My mom wrote in one of her letters to us children many years later these sweet words: "I do believe that teaching you children how to read was one of the most rewarding mothering skills I experienced with you. So thank you my dears! Love to each of you, Mom"

Most women struggle with their moms and see things they don’t want to do that their mothers did.  What things would you do exactly the same way your mother did?

            Oh, goodness gracious, there are too many to count! But on the very top of my list, it would be the way that she actually passed on "blessed motherhood" to her four daughters. What I mean is, she lived out her motherhood in such a way that as we grew and watched her, we knew that this was the kind of life that we wanted to emulate.  We all do it. We see something beautiful and we want it for ourselves. We are attracted to goodness. She passed on to her daughters what was "truly best" for them. She did not allow the world to tell her what was best for her daughters. She taught us what God saw best for us. As the saying goes "Imitation is the best form of flattery".

            Once upon a time, not so very long ago, girls wanted to grow up and be like mommy. But we have entered into a very sad time when mothers have been fooled into thinking that they want their daughters to have more than they did. So they sent their daughters off to college. Our pride does not want us to believe that being a wife, mother and homemaker is being a handmaid of the Lord.  These are the things that Our Lady did. They were good enough for her. These are the things my mother did; they were good enough for her. May the Lord grant us the grace to see that we are not above His beautiful plan for us, that we may not be tempted by the world.

            Let me clarify: I strongly believe in women being very well -educated. They have to be; they teach our future generations everything! This is why it is of utmost importance that we are intentional about the form of education that we receive and that we know that it is for a purpose much higher than merely a source of esteem or income. C.S.Lewis wisely pointed out that "The homemaker has the ultimate career.  All other careers exist for one purpose only… to support the ultimate career."

             It is my prayer that I can be like my mother in this way to my own daughters, that I can live out my motherhood the way she did, and that my daughters may see with their own eyes the true beauty in the vocation of "blessed motherhood." I pray that they may never be fooled into desiring less then the ultimate career!


Lets talk about the beautiful book cover. Who designed it and can you explain its significance?

            The cover was very important to me. I knew from the very start that it needed to be a foretaste to the beauty of which was contained in the words of my mother. As with the words of my mother in these pages, I hoped for the cover to reflect that comfort, joy, femininity, and gentleness. In life, she always brought a presence of comfort to a room. As with this little book, it was my hope that through the pleasant femininity that the roses express, the softness of the ribbon to the touch, and the gentle reminder printed on the bookmark, that these would bring with it a gentle presence to whoever's hands or room this little book found its way into. I expressed all of this to a friend who does graphic designs and together we were very pleased with the outcome. When it came time for publishing the book and printing the cover, we sent it to the publishers. They said that the software was not compatible with theirs so they would try to duplicate it as best as they could in their graphic department. They did a wonderful job and that is how the cover of this book came to be.

You mention that you travelled a lot to pro-life rallies.  What kind of impression did that leave on you and how did that impact your advocacy today?

            It has left on me a profound understanding that women have been duped and brainwashed about the way they view motherhood. Contraceptives and abortion [are] …practiced by people that do not realize what they are giving up. Abortion would cease if women were taught the greatest kept secret in our day: "blessed motherhood". If they were taught about "blessed motherhood" they would fall deeply and madly in love with it.

            As with many failed love stories, it didn't work, because we were looking for love in all the wrong places. It is so sad, but profoundly true in any love story. We humans always think that we know what is better for us than God our Creator. As my mom stated in one of her letters "We are the most educated uneducated people".

             If you recall on the movie Mom’s Night Out, the mothers were entranced with the mommy eagle and desired what she had. The eagle was content and at peace… because she was doing exactly what God created her to do.  However, what do you think would have happened if something or someone had threatened the mommy eagle? She would have fought to the death!

            We have to be bold enough to not only embrace motherhood, but fight to the death for it. If we mothers don't do it, then who will? I am not talking about distracted, cell-phone-in-one-ear-motherhood…I am talking about embracing motherhood with the driven intention of experiencing it and investing in it and ultimately falling in love with it!

            Abortion will not end until we reject the way the world views motherhood and embrace what we were created for by God. Until most of our daughters are feeling deep down in their heart of hearts, that their heart’s desire is to be a mother and to one day hold their own precious child in their own womb, arms and heart, abortion will not end. We mothers are the ones who must fight the good fight. We must strengthen and equip ourselves and our daughters with the essential weapons, which is understanding the beauty of who God created us to be and experiencing the fulfillment that is ours when we live it. This is what will give us the strength to resist the disease of empty homes and childless cradles! Along with prayer and fasting, this is what will end abortion. That is why I advocate this little book on my mother's life. This little book could do more to ending abortion then one might ever suspect.

Thank you for the opportunity to interview you, Maria.  
The outstanding book is available on www.seeyouinheavenbook.com

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Painful and Unexpected Miracle from St. Anne

            Strangely, I didn’t have a built in devotion to St. Anne, the patron saint after whom I was named. Even when I was challenged by infertility and was praying for my future husband (two things she is famous for), I didn’t think to ask for her intercession.

            St. Anne tapped me on the shoulder when I started homeschooling. This summer, as I ordered my curriculum, I began a novena to her for the intention of having a smooth sailing, grace-filled school year and for my children and I to learn virtues (specifically, obedience and patience) as well as fractions.

            When I was surprised by excruciating appendicitis and emergency appendectomy in lieu of a trip to Atlanta, I naturally pressed in my novena request for a safe and successful surgery and recovery.

            “I’m already on it,” St. Anne said.

            How so?


            I recalled the first two times I was plagued with similar symptoms last year when I was rushed to the ER, but the doctors couldn’t do a CAT scan because of pregnancy and since the pain disappeared shortly, they couldn’t conclusively identify appendicitis to perform surgery.

            The more I thought about the timing of events, the more I certain I was that someone was praying for me all along because the surgery occurred after a healthy baby was born, before he became mobile, and on the same day I picked up my mother and father-in-law from the airport (which meant no worries that my children would be unsafe while I recuperated). 

            Before surgery, our priest heard my confession, performed the anointing of the sick, and repeated to me the homily that I missed at morning Mass.  He said God invites us to rest and leisure times, not just to work, work, work. Father left with an order to “Rest.”

            There in my hospital gown and listening to the IV machine beeps, I realized I was given a rare chance to reflect in solo (the hospital room is quieter than our home believe it or not), to receive graces from two Sacraments, to meditate on the spiritual books I’d been neglecting, and to offer up my aches and pain in reparation for sin and for all my intentions. 

            It’s not how I would have planned a retreat surely, but its how St. Anne helped in orchestrating it, and I view it as a gift.  No doubt she was involved because St. Anne is a connoisseur of unplanned evens.  She, who was barren for years before becoming blessed with the Mother of God as her daughter.  And in Blessed Catherine Emerich’s revelation, St. Anne prepared for Jesus birth with gorgeous linen and luxurious accommodations, unaware that her human plans would be thwarted by Divine Will.

            The homeschool isn’t even in full swing, but I’m already learning patience and obedience from the lap of my heavenly grandmother.  I find warm consolation that those patron saints for whom we were named, always got our backs. Thank you and Happy Feast Day, St. Anne! 
           

            *For an inspiring story about St. Anne’s intercession on finding a husband, read Annie Deddens testimony.

Friday, July 24, 2015

What Do Baby Organs and Relics Have in Common?

Featured on Catholic Stand.

That Planned Parenthood was selling baby organs (oh excuse me, “tissue” according to the PP public statements, but not according to my biology teacher) didn’t even raise a lick of hair on my eyebrow. I’d researched detailed abortion procedures for my novel, heard Jill Stanek describe partial birth abortions and knew fetal parts were used in facial creams, flavor enhancers and early vaccine production.  Of course someone had to link the provider and consumer.

            Quite frankly, the fact of abortion is more gruesome than the sale.

            My burning question when I heard the news was not if Congress would investigate the allegations, what other involvements would crop up or be covered up, how Planned Parenthood would spin the news to defend itself, whether taxes would continue funding them?

              Rather, my question was: what do baby organs and Catholic relics have in common?



            I asked because I’ve been exposed to a collection of relics lately.  My husband just built an altar with a space specifically carved for a relic.  I’d been to a healing service with Padre Pio’s glove and a relic of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos.  After Mass, I venerated St. Teresa of Avila and St. Alexus’ relics on their Feast Days.

            Relics, as Catechism teach us, are either body parts of a saint (first class) or an object that touched their bodies (second class).  In venerating relics, we ask for their intercessions from their secured positions in heaven.  The Council of Trent 1536 says:
             
            “The sacred bodies of the holy martyrs and of the other saints living with Christ…should be venerated by the faithful.  Through them, many benefits are granted to men by God.”

            Sick people have been cured by God’s grace, through the veneration of relics.  Stories of tumors, leukemia, and arthritis disappearing are still reported.  Not unlike the woman from scripture who hemorrhaged for twelve years, was healed after touching Jesus’ cloak.  Or the people who were cured from disease by touching Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 2:9-14) or objects touched to St. Paul (Acts of the Apostles 19:11-12).

            Like the saints, aborted babies were fearfully and wonderfully made.  God created them with dreams and missions to further His kingdom: perhaps becoming the scientist-priest who finds the cure to cancer; or the tech whiz who invents the app that can transport your car to Venice in seconds; or becoming the random paramedic who would one day save your life in a restaurant.


              Unlike the saints, these aborted babies never had a chance to choose faith and serve mankind with their God-given talents for a lifetime.   That is the real catastrophe.  That they were used without their consent for “medical research”, when they should have been the future saints of the Church, whose miraculous relics could have been the very body of Christ used to heal the sick.  Tragically, we too are the sad victims of their fate.