Friday, April 29, 2011

Prayer of Willis and Kate

Wedding prayer written by the happy royal couple

"God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen."

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

Read the entire text of the Bishop of Canterbury's sermon here.

Before I was a slave, I didn't even care about myself.

I just about fainted in Borders this afternoon when I read this quote on the back of a book jacket of a biography of St. Patrick:

"Believe me, I didn't go to Ireland willing the first time-- I almost died there. But it turned out to be good for me in the end, because God used the time to shape and mold me into something better. He made me into what I am now- someone very different from what I once was, someone who can care about others and work to help them. Before I was a slave, I didn't even care about myself."

(Phillip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland, Simon & Schuster, 2004).

Does that blow your mind open? I couldn't believe that a stranger could so totally get my NICU experience. . .my infertility wait... my miscarriage. The mystery of suffering beside our friend Jesus Christ is a deep and beautiful one.

My Conversion of Heart on the Papacy--A Minor Miracle of Blessed John Paul II

I walked into my RICA class in 2001 with two big chips on my shoulder. I respected the Catholic Church, sort of. I went to Mass with my Catholic husband and begrudgingly promised to baptize my future children in the Catholic faith. However, I was only attending RICA for "educational purposes"-- to understand what my kids would one day be learning in Sunday School.

I knew that I was going to remain a Protestant myself for two reasons:

a)I wasn't going to get sucked into this "worshiping Mary nonsense", &

b) I wasn't going to "kowtow" to no Pope.

Well, you can guess how long a future Carmelite held out on the "I will honor Jesus ONLY issue", but on the eve of Pope John Paul II Beatification, I wanted to share a personal conversion story.

In the Fall of 2001, Jon and I had the habit of watching double features in the Independent Movie theater of Rochester, New York. One weekend they advertised the movie "Witness to Hope."

I came out of that film transformed.

I couldn't speak to my husband.

I couldn't believe that there was a person who suffered so much. The early loss of his Mother, the death of his father, the Natzis, the Communists, everything. And this man kept his Faith. He became a priest. He served his flock. He ministered in the woods to the young, to the newlyweds, to the exhausted parents of his parish. Then, he got unexpectedly tapped on his shoulder to become Pope.

Pope John Paul II was a man who held onto his Christian Faith despite all the odds.

I suddenly decided "It would be an honor to serve under this man."

I came back to my RICA class. Same seat. Same teacher. Same Classmates. But I had a different heart.

When I heard about the Pope's authority, my heart didn't well up with rebellous pride anymore.

"I'm not saying that I'll automatically agree with everything any future Pope will say," I said as I explained my conversion to Catholicism to my dumbstruck Protestant friends. "But this current Pope is different. He's very holy."

I love you Pope John Paul the great! Thank you for pulling me back into the fold. Your personal holiness helped me look past my inherited prejudices and fall in love with the glory of the seat of St. Peter.

(P.S. Did you know Pope John Paul II was a Secular Carmelite? He even did his thesis on St. John of the Cross.)

St. Catherine of Siena

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today.." From the Bishop's Sermon at the Royal Wedding today.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for Princess Kate and for all of us women called to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Benjamin Kids

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Moby Disaster


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Honey, I don't think it's supposed to look like that....

and I'm not just talking about a man wearing pink....


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"Help me Miss Lauren, Help Me" shouts a concern Tess. (and yes I did stop to get my camera before rescuing my post NICU baby because I'm such a blogger!)

April Showers Bring....


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Easter 2011

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My family w/ my brother and sister. (Jon is taking the photo)

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Outside with Father Doug
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the bunny cake--Jon did all the carving work

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Things That I Now Know As a Mother Of 4

It's all about "knowing when to fold them!"

Delegation, baby!

As poor as we are, I still:

I pay someone else to deliver groceries to my door (through online grocery shopping),

pay someone else to do my taxes, (I survived TAX LAW 100 people! It took 8 years of marriage for my husband to convince me to hand over the job to H & R Block. It literally causes me physical pain to hit "pay" each April for our taxes--but it's worth it. Trying to find a few hours of "uninterrupted silence" with 4 young kids in our house is impossible!),

And now.....

I'm going to start paying someone else to take professional photographs of my 4 kids!

It was literally impossible for me to get all my kids to look in one direction at the same time in their darling Easter Outfits. It's especially challenging with a six year old son who makes awful faces and then runs into another room after 2 camera flashes. In the middle of losing my mind in the five seconds we had left before church, I decided "it is SO worth it to pay $10 a sheet at Target for this!!!"

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How To Tell That You Are Coming Off Lent

During a tense negotiation with my eight year old in the middle of a department store dressing room, my first instinct was to mutter under my breath

....... "it sure is an act of mercy to clothe the naked!"

(Hope my new leaf with Hannah holds up! :-)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Life As A Catholic

Tonight marks 9 years as a Catholic.

I realized last week that I don't even have a pictures from the night when I took my First Communion. Can you imagine?

I've got thousands of pictures of my Marriage, and a few precious shots of my Baptism.

Yet First Communion, the same sacrament that I just put so much effort in last year for my daughter, passed me right by.

I didn't buy a new dress. I didn't do a ton of prayer prep. I just sort of showed up when they said to show up and sat in the pew with my name tag on it. (Jon thought he took some pictures but that was two digital cameras ago. I don't remember ever printing any out.)

I remember being really nervous. My Protestant parents were there and I was worried about how they would react to this big break with my past. My brand-new husband was there. He was so excited and so nervous.

I remember being really nervous and really numb.

I took the big Communion bit--- and nothing.

I remember feeling vaguely disappointed.

My sponsor was a complete stranger from Church who gave me a crucifix and a John Paul II rosary. "It's been blessed" she said. I took the gift without having any idea what "being blessed" meant. The crucifix still hangs over my bed.

That night my husband and I stayed up late and talked and talked. I don't think we were even talking about the faith--just happy and excited to be newlyweds together.

If I had to talk to that girl nine years ago, I'd half to bit my cheek to avoid giving her to much advice. GET A NEW DRESS, Stupid. Take some pictures. Get them developed and framed PRONTO! Did you really work very hard at examining your conscience before that First Confession? Read more Holy Scripture. Girl, is prayer anywhere on the agenda--at all?

But the thing I have to remember is despite my general cluelesness, despite my ignorance-- my first taste of the Eucharist worked.

It's Christ, in there. Body and Soul.

I don't have any pictures of that special Holy Night, Easter Vigil 2002--but I have the fruit. Five holy souls that I've carried in my womb. A Carmelite vocation. A strengthened marriage. A new life with Christ filled to the brim with Faith. Hope. And Love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My New Standard of Meekness

In the 1950s, Mother Teresa ran into trouble with finding a suitable spot for a new leper clinic in Calcutta. The wife of a British solicitor, Ann Blaikie, suggested a plot of land between two railway lines. Government officials whipped up public opinion against this move.

When Mother Teresa arrived "the villagers picked up stones and started to throw them, forcing the well-intentioned intruders to run to the car. Mother Teresa, always quick to perceive the hand Providence at work, saw in their disapproval a sign that God might not want a leper clinic in that particular location and resolved to pray for two mothers to see what God did want...."

(Within two months she received a $10,000 rupee donation AND free medical support to open the first ever mobile leprosy clinic is laid. The new discovery of the sulphone drug, DDS, means that patients can now be treated at home.)

"Ambulances carrying this and other medicines to those areas where there were most needed could arrest the disease and in some cases cure it and, what was of vital importance to Mother Teresa, they could do so without removing the patient from his family, his essential source of love, or his employment, the mainspring of his dignity." (Spink, Mother Teresa, p 65)

Can you imagine such meekness? First, if a crowd of people started literally throwing stones at me for "doing God's work" , I would be sorely tempted to get on my high horse. I'd be tempted to think that clearly I was in the right and they were in the wrong. It's a LEPER Clinic, after all. How much more cut and dried can you get for being "inside of God's will?" For Mother Teresa to view the villagers stone -throwing as the permissive Will of God Almighty is pretty amazing. Then she had the courage and self-discipline to sit still and PRAY about the problem for two months??? So inspiring!

"We Can't Have Heaven All the Way To Heaven!"

My new favorite quote from Mother Angelica. ("Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve and a Network of Miracles" by Raymond Arroyo, Doubleday, 2005.)

My New Favorite Mother Teresa of Calcutta Story

"After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa was invited to a official reception in Delhi's historic Red Fort in February 1980... Mother Teresa rose to speak. She told the story of a leper who had run the doorbell of the mother house a few days previously. Here tale was a clear indication of the perspective from which she viewed her international acclaim:

It was a leper shivering with cold. I asked him whether he needed anything from me. I wanted to offer him food and a blanket to protect himself from the bitter night of Calcutta.

He replied in the negative. He showed me his begging bowl. He told me in Bengali: "Mother, people were talking that you received some prize. This morning I decided that whatever I got through begging today, I would hand over to you this evening. That is why I am here."

I found in the begging bowl 75 paise (2 pence). The gift was small. I keep it even today on my table because this tiny gift reveals to me the largeness of a human heart. It is beautiful."

The leper's small gift she kept on her table; the Nobel medal she had temporarily mislaid at the reception following the ceremony. After some searching it was found among the coats in the entrance hall.
(From Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, pg 171.)

Did you catch that? The Noble Peace Prize-- (the award I would have been clutching onto with pride and joy)-- this Saint immediately LOST in a coat closet. The two worthless pennies from a beggar, Mother Teresa enshrines on a place of honor at her desk.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us. Ask Christ to heal our vanity. Pray that we will start to hold more lightly the worthless things of the world, and hold tighter too the things that are great in the eyes of God.

Slightly Less Selfish in 2011

This Good Friday, it took us a manic 35 minutes to get out the door to hit my parish's Stations of the Cross at noon.

Six people needed to find rain gear and matching shoes. The Baby needed a ton of stuff. We had to find the bus passes, the water bottles, and (no I'm not exaggerating here) forty-one urgently almost overdue library books.

We hit the bus stop with six seconds to spare. We all jumped off at church. Maria (my 3 year old) is currently going on a walking strike. "I'm tired" she announces each and every time we bring out the new "big girl" stroller for Baby Tess. Since my beloved spouse is currently an overloaded pack mule with 41 overdue library books precariously balanced on his back, I offer to carry the sulky three year old. Since I'm a weakling, this really means, "carry a happy middle daughter for one city block, put her down, and drag her sobbing by the hand for the next city block. rinse and repeat."

I feel a little wilted by the time we reach our parish church.

We walk in.

I point out the missing Holy Water to the kids, pass out Station of the Cross booklets to the kids (I'm so charmed that Alex makes sure that our little Tess has one!) and dragged a parade of my family to the empty Tabernacle behind the alter.

Two alter guild ladies were cleaning out the Tabernacle and kept giving me odd, surprised glances. "Dudes this is educational..." I thought. I assertively keep going with my little pre-Mass show and tell speech. "Today the Tabernacle is bare. The cloth is missing. The Tabernacle is unlocked and empty. Jesus isn't with us today. Today, and JUST for today, we don't have to bow when we walk past it. Can everyone see the empty spot inside there?"

Then we made a beeline to the back of the church. We flung 6 coats and three large backpacks in a huge pile on one of the pews. I notice that the coats are sort of precariously hanging over the edge.

"Should we go ahead and start?" Jon asks me. It's still at good 30 minutes before the official Stations of the Cross being. "Okay!" I said cheerfully. "I don't think our kids can really handle the official service today."

"Station One: Pilate Condemns Jesus. Everyone on the right page?" Flish! Flash! We get through the 12 lickety-split. Everyone is focused. Everyone is interested. We keep moving down through all the Stations of the Cross. We kneel at "His Death." We kiss the cross. We pray in sympathy with Mary. We bury the body.

And then we are done.

The whole thing--maybe took ten minutes.

"Are we finished? Do we want to go to go to the playground now," Jon asked me.

"Yes!" I said.

Later when we were at our favorite city candy store (yes, I bribe my children with penny candy to attend Church!) Jon was remarking that "this was the best Stations of the Cross yet!"

"Everyone is getting older," we agreed. But then we also realized that we were getting a little less selfish. Last year, I would have tried to make our prayer time "worth more." It took so much time to get out of the house, my husband took the day off from work, I should make this holy devotion last longer and "get our money's worth..." But just for a moment, I got to let go a little of my vanity--my concern about looking pious for strangers in my church.

This Good Friday was all pleasing Jesus--not myself. If I never to get meditate for serious time in front of the cross, that is all well and good. Maybe I can meditate alone in my bedroom tonight, maybe not. Meanwhile, the short, sweet and very devoted time my teeny children spent walking the Stations of the Cross was time well spent.

So How Was Your Lent?

...It's almost here... Easter Vigil Mass!!!

I'm so excited. It's been a totally awesome Lent. I learned so much. I'm so refreshed. I'm so ready for battle.

(Which is good because tomorrow I have to figure out how to bake a pineapple glazed ham and a complicated Easter Cake.* Nothing like kitchen duty to test our recent Lenten resolves, eh? I know our parish blesses the Easter Food on Saturday. I think they should have a special "Martha Blessing" to bless the novice cooks as well!)

This Saturday will mark nine years for me being a Catholic. A special shout-out to Dame Betty Beguiles who is celebrating conversion year 10. Any other converts out there?

(Miss Tharen, still plenty of room left at my Easter Table! If Mass and a sloppy bunny cake don't lure you to my place, a cute, crawling Baby Tess should! :-)

Sometimes Your Cardinal Just Hits It Out of the Park!

I love, love, LOVE my Archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. He's the chairman of the US Bishop's Committee on Doctrine and he had an interesting metaphor for describing the Bishops teaching role on theological matters of the Catholic faith.

"In a tennis match, it is not the player who called the balls 'out of bounds' but the referee. The player may object that it was not his or her intention to hit the ball out of bounds. He or she may even question whether the ball is out of bounds. But it is the referee who must make the call. Otherwise, there can be no coherent game, no enjoyment of the match, no sense of progress in learning the sport; In short the 'tennis game" would devolved into a fruitless exchange of individuals hitting the ball at will."

... "So it is in academic theological investigation. If it is to be directed towards a fruitful deepening of our understanding, then it cannot be an exchange of individuals hitting the ball randomly. Once ideas are written and published by a theologian, they must stand on their own; it is the bishops who are entrusted with the office of referee, who must call play."(Catholic Standard, April 21, 2011 pg 14).

Adorable Moments in Mass

It was an ordinary moment during the Palm Sunday Mass. The Passion Play was painful to me. The inexpert readers kept losing their places.

Baby Tess was teething and fussy. Alex had his feet up in the air and his head down on the ground at one point. So when my three year old, Maria said "Mama!" I didn't immediately turn around. I sort of figured that some sibling was poking her with a hymnal.

Maria said it again. "MAMA! Let's go save Him!"

In my kid's mind, this passion play was real and describing a new event. My determined Maria had already jumped down off her pew and was about to race up the center aisle. She wanted my help to get those men to stop hurting "her Jesus."

Calling All St. Francis De Sales Fans

I just hit upon a gem of a book "The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise On Peace of the Soul" by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli. This is the book that St. Francis De Sales carried in his pocket and supposedly read every day.

I just started but its blowing my mind open. Here's a sample quote:

"We shall see clearly that it is greater to despise the world than to have it at one's command; that it is infinitely preferable to submit to the humblest of men for God's sake, than to command kings and princes; that an humble knowledge of ourselves surpasses the deepest sciences; in short that great praise is due to him who curbs his passions on the most trivial occasions, than to him who conquers the strongest cities, defeats entire armies, or even works miracles." (pg 20)

"One Man's Lenten Preparation for His First Easter in Heaven"

(here are some clips from a wonderful article by Father Peter J. Daly which appeared in the April 21, 2011 edition of the Catholic Standard. Father Daly writes about the last Lenten resolutions by Bill Gaiser, an 84 year old former St. John Vianney Parishioner who died recently.)

"During Lent and throughout the year:

Give up resentment; decide to forgive.
Give up hatred; decide to return good for evil.
Give up complaining; decide to be grateful.
Give up pessimism; decide to be optimistic.
Give up worry; decide to be trusting.
Give up sadness; decide to be hopeful.
Give up anger; decide to be patient.
Give up pettiness; decide to be noble.
Give up gloom; decide to be joyful."

Isn't that just incredible? I love how it's phrased as "give up"... and then "decide to.." Mr Gaiser paired the vices and virtues so nicely together. I found those words at the end of Lent, but they will guide me in becoming an "Easter Person" after the Resurrection.

Father Daly goes on to say "God does not really care much if we give up chocolate or TV. It may help discipline us, but it does not really conform us more to the heart of Christ. As we grow closer to Christ, we really want to give up the "bad attitudes" that are the opposite of the beatitudes." (Catholic Standard, pg 11)

Sometimes I get confused that being a Christian is "rocket science." I sit around and wait for virtues to float down from heaven. I get frustrated often that I'm not turning into a good enough person fast enough. But this little litany is so focused. It narrows the Christian life down to a moment by moment choices--the heart beat of grace. Give up the bad! Decide to do Good. Over. And Over. And Over again.