The Year of Faith

Jesus knocking on the door of our heart.

The Year of Faith October 11, 2012 to November 23, 2013

“…They called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith…”(Acts 14:27).

Pope Benedict XVI recently declared a Year of Faith.  This Year of Faith begins October 11, 2012 and runs through November 23, 2013. The beginning marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “The upcoming Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI is a ‘summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world’ (Porta fidei 6).”  The Sacred Scripture highlighted for this year is Acts 14:27 which depicts conversion as “opening the door of faith,”  which was opened at one’s baptism, and re-opened in the renewing of faith and rediscovery of Christ and His Church.

What does this mean for us? 

Faith is a gift. God knocks at that door and invites us to step through the threshold.  Stepping requires grace. The Year of Faith is a call to live out each and every moment of our lives within the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  It is a call to deepen our relationship with God.  Catholics can be strengthened in this gift through their participation in Sunday Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  Of course prayer, fasting and acts of charity also help to obtain grace for the long haul and gives us strength to open the door when He calls.

Jumping into the deep

Most of us at one time or another encounter the need to take leaps of faith in our lives.  There are many situations in which we might find ourselves, like starting a new business, embarking upon a new career, enrolling in college, moving to a new city, welcoming a new baby, getting married, or buying a new home.  Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to make a lifestyle change.  Most life transitions involve leaps of faith.  Sometimes this means giving up things or persons that of which we are accustomed, such as in the case of addictions or weight loss. Usually a big leap is intimidating –but we cannot forget that many little steps can equal a big step.  A child of Christ can only take baby steps.  And babies do have a tendency to stumble from time to time.  But with grace we get back up and learn as we go.

Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts

One of my favorite images is that of Jesus knocking on the door of our heart.  In my own personal journey, I continue to discover what that means at different levels. As a young girl years before I became a Christian, I had a dream of Jesus knocking on the door of my house.  It was difficult for me to open that door.  In fact, I went and hid.  But what was amazing is that Jesus opened that door for me.  I continue to wonder at what God can do, not only for me, but for each one of us.

The Year of Faith is an opportunity for all of us to meditate on growing deeper in faith and closer to God and His Church.  It is a call to take that step and open the door.  If we are unable, He is willing to help us get to where we need to go. We need only to ask and take that leap.

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On Going to the Moon: Not Just Another Raving “Lunatic”

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A popular lunatic

One of my favorite old-time TV programs is the Honeymooners.  A line from that 1950s sitcom which always makes me laugh is when Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason, gets flustered at his wife and yells, “To the moon Alice, to the moon!”  The loud-mouthed, robust, and scheming Ralph always had a lot of explaining to do with Alice, his practical common-sense wife who always seemed to have the upper hand in matters.

A trip to the moon seemed to be far-fetched and out-of-reach during the 1950s. It was just about as far as away as anyone could ever even imagine. Most of us have at least taken a few moments to stare at the moon, wonder about its distance, and to try sketch out the face of the man of the moon. But in 1969, a man named Neil Armstrong would be the first to step foot on the moon. Recently the news has been abuzz with the recent passing of Neil Armstrong on August 25, 2012 due to complications related to heart disease.

The passing of Neil Armstrong

The media is full of comments on Armstrong, described as a quiet and humble man who was a grateful but also the reluctant hero. A popular story tells of Armstrong’s visit to Jerusalem where he stood on the stairs to the Temple Mount. In thinking about being at the original steps where Jesus actually walked, Armstrong was quoted to say, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon” (Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, p. 429). Most of us will never get to the moon to be able to compare.  But a lot of persons would love to have a chance to at least walk in the steps of Jesus. There are even those that would jump at the chance to do both.

An endeavor as difficult as going to the moon

For each one of us, there are things that seem as insurmountable as going to the moon. There are things that we would like to accomplish and we can easily get overwhelmed with such prospects. Tasks like starting a business or undertaking a fundraising campaign. My own parish is in the process of restoration and renovation where the multimillion dollar cost seems about as obtainable as flying to the moon. Others might see getting a college degree as distant as the stars, especially if one has challenges such as lack of financial resources, being a single parent, getting older in age, and/or the first one in their family to reach such an achievement. Believe it or not, there are quite a few people who stop in their tracks just because no “no one among their family or friends has ever done such and such.” My own undergraduate alma mater Campbell University had a slogan, Ad astra per aspera, which translates “to the stars through difficulties.”

Challenges can be simple and everyday ones

There are everyday goals that seem as difficult going to the moon. One popular challenge involves the effort to lose weight. To some people dropping a few pounds is as big of an accomplishment as a televised lunar landing.  Another is the effort to save money. This is something that seems next to impossible during tough economic hardships and in the climate of increasing taxes.

Unfortunately there are even some people, such as those who might suffer from depression or illness, getting out of bed in the morning can seem to be a great task. Others might have a tough time finding employment. Some might have the problem of overcoming an addiction.  There are addictions to all sorts of substances and habits from drugs and alcohol to gaming, shopping, and even picking one’s cuticles.

The secret of one step at a time.

Neil Armstrong is known for his famous quote: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Whatever we might try to do, the secret is to go one step at a time. Just about everyone has faced a messy kitchen or bedroom. And just about everyone knows that the way to tackle it is to start first at one corner.  Little by little– order is made. It is the same way with issues in our lives.  Often this is one day at a time, one minute, and sometimes even only a second at a time. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Back to walking in the footsteps of Jesus

What about being able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus? Though many of us will never get to go to Jerusalem, the moon, or even to Rome, the truth of the matter is that we can still actually walk in His steps wherever we find ourselves. This is not through bi-locating supernaturally either; but spiritually seeking out God’s plan for one’s life and having the grace to walk in it.  This is about following God’s Commandments. Jesus gave each one of us the advice to take up our Cross and follow Him. So whether we are boarding our own “challenger” or “endeavor” in our own backyard or living room, we can be excited in knowing that as we embrace our own Crosses we are indeed following in Jesus’ footsteps.  And that becomes a huge step for each one of us.

Next stop, Mars!

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For Every Mother with a Child Who is “Out of Control”

(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady.
The crypt of St. Monica in the Basilica of St. Augustine, Rome

For every mother that has ever had a kid that was out of control.

Today (August 27) is the Feast Day of St. Monica, the Mother of St. Augustine. She lived during the very early years of the Church (333-387).  She was born in Northern Africa and died in Ostia near Rome.  Some details about her life can be found in The Confessions of St. Augustine, written by her infamous son. St. Monica gained recognition in the Church for her quiet perseverance in prayer and patience with her difficult husband and son, Augustine who was a  “problem” child.  St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church, was noted to be a wild guy in his early days. His mother prayed for his conversion and he became one of the most noted Catholic spiritual leaders. St. Augustine was baptized in 387 by St. Ambrose.  She was able to see the fruit of her tears and prayers before her death.  Her husband also was converted before his death.

Discovery of the Relics of St. Monica

I have shared in an earlier blog of my visit to Rome this past Easter.  One of my favorite activities there is to meander around the streets and to pop into the various Churches that are at every piazza.  Every parish has a spiritual surprise. One such precious discovery was the Basilica of St. Augustine which contained the relics of St. Monica.  She is noted to be the patron of all mothers who pray for the well being of their children physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  While there, I found a prayer card to St. Monica.

Prayer to St. Monica 

Prayer to St. Monica
God, Holy Father,
mercy for those who trust in You,
You granted Your servant Monica
the invaluable gift for reconciling
the souls with You and with one another.
With her life, her prayers and her tears
she took her husband Patrick
and her son Augustine to You.
In her we praise Your gifts;
by her intercession
give us Your Grace.

O Saint Monica,
who spiritually nourished your children
giving them birth so many times
as you saw them becoming estranged from God,
pray for our families, for young people
and for those who can’t find the path of sanctity.
Obtain for us fidelity to God,
the perseverance in longing for Heaven
and the capacity to lead to the Lord
those He puts under our care. Amen.

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Accepting New Clients in the Chicago Area

I am now accepting new clients in the Chicago area.  A faith-based approach to counseling is offered to persons from all backgrounds. Please see the attached announcement for details.

(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady


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It’s That Time of Year Again: Back to School

Grape vines growing along the sidewalk on the way to my daughter’s school.
Reminds me that Jesus is Lord of the Vineyard and Lord of the Harvest.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady.

It’s that time of year again.

It’s that time of year again when kids are heading back to school. For many it is a day of firsts. For others, it is still a routine.There are those who are entering kindergarten and those who are beginning high school. Some have packed up and gone off to college. I have heard a few moms and dads even say that it is the best time of year. Others approach these events with tears. However, as the years pass the summers seem to accelerate and creep up on unsuspecting parents. One moment we are shedding the backpacks and disposing of tattered spiral notebooks and pencil nubs, and the next we are shopping for brand new leather closed-toe shoes. With every summer there are lists of things to get accomplished before fall.  There are basements to clear out, gardens to plant, relatives to visit, vacations to experience, marathons to dream about, and time to spend with one another. But before we know it the warm days have passed and we have still yet to begin.

The days of the Mommy Mobile are numbered.

As a mother of teenagers, my nostalgia only increases with time. There have been times when I thought that the days of the “Mommy Mobile” would never end. We went from cars seats and diaper bags to fighting over the front seats and backpacks. Through down pours, road construction, blizzards, last-minute teacher conferences, Sunday night dioramas, and warm spring days, the family SUV blazed its trail to the school. Somewhere along the way all of the chauffeuring transitions from being a responsibility to being a great a privilege.  Eventually kids start finding their own way.

Lord of the Vineyard.

I accompanied my daughter on her way to high school today. In the midst of stomach butterflies she was excited.  “It’s okay, Mom, I know my way from here,” she said. “Well, I sure hope so,” I thought.  I am still finding my way through life myself.  A mother’s heart always looks down the road for her children. Upon leaving the schoolyard, I noticed some grape vines lining the sidewalk.  It brought to my mind how Jesus is the Lord of the Vineyard.  While our children are in school and even in life beyond, it is a constant prayer for their wellbeing and that they will bloom wherever they are planted.

Comfort on the journey of life.

Psalm 23 reminds us of the comfort and assurance available along the pathway of life. It is the same blessing that a parent would want for their children.  The words are common ones but can be repeated in our hearts through both the challenging and the peaceful times.  I remember learning the words when I was in high school myself, once upon a time.  My daughter would ask, “Was that back in the days of the Black and White TV?”  “It was just about then”, I would answer.

Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.  In verdant pastures He gives me repose; Besides restful waters He leads me; He refreshes my soul.

He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake.  Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.

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A Holy Day of Opportunity: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Stained glass window above the altar at Assumption Church in Chicago. The window depicts the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the top and her Dormition on the bottom.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

What is it about the Holy Days of Obligation?

In the Catholic Church there is what is known as Holy Days of Obligation.  A lot of people really don’t like the word, obligation. The word conjures up images of having to do something against their own free will.  Some might look at it as being another type of rule, piled onto so many other rules and commandments. But actually what they fail to realize is that while it is an obligation, it is also much more.  It is about an opportunity. It is an opportunity to share in a celebration.  It is an opportunity to obtain graces.  It is an opportunity to receive Jesus.  A Holy Day of Obligation is not a “don’t”— it is a “do.” This is a lot like the idea that the Commandments appear superficially to be life-limiting rules but in practice are life-giving and are quite liberating for the whole person and society.  In fact, Holy Days of Obligation arise out of the Third Commandment which states, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”  

An opportunity to participate in the significant feasts of the Church

These Holy Days of Obligation correspond to significant feasts that honor the mysteries Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and/or the saints.  Every Sunday is actually a Holy Day of Obligation.  The number and type of Holy Days vary according to the Catholic rite and nation.  In addition to Sundays, there are six designated days in the Latin rite dioceses of the United States:  The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; the Ascension; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; All Saints Day; Immaculate Conception; and Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  If certain of these feasts happen to fall on a Monday or a Saturday, attendance at the Sunday Mass for that week is enough if designated as such by a the local bishop.

A Precept of the Church

These are actually the most important days of the year. They are obligatory in that all faithful Catholics are required to go to Mass according to the first Precept (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2042).  In other words they are an absolute minimum requirement and to intentionally violate would be considered grave matter or mortal sin.  Of course, there are instances when persons might not be able to attend Mass in spite of their best intention.  Such is in the case of sickness, caregiver responsibilities, difficulty with transportation, lack of access to a Mass, inability to leave from work or school, etc.  These and other special circumstances for not attending an obligation would not be considered a mortal sin.  But the faithful are required to put forth their best effort.  

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary presents an opportunity

This Wednesday August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is one of the Holy Days of Obligation. The Assumption celebrates the dogma of faith that Mary was “assumed” into Heaven.  The word assumed means that her whole body and soul went up to Heaven to be with her Son, Jesus. The doctrine states that Mary’s body, born without Original Sin, was incorruptible and therefore taken directly to Heaven upon her death.  In observing the Assumption we can appreciate the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God as well as our Mother, and her cooperation in God’s will. It is also an opportunity for us to remember to take care of our own bodies and try to keep them holy as Temples of the Holy Spirit.  August 15 has been connected to the Blessed Virgin Mary since the early centuries of the Church.

The House of Mary is located in Ephesus, Turkey.  My family and I had the opportunity to visit this Shrine a couple of years ago.  By tradition this is the location where St. John took Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to live out her last days on this earth before her death. Several Popes have visited this location which sits on top of a hill overlooking the sea.  Incidentally, this is a place where both Christians and Muslims go to pray. Muslims also have devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as being the Mother of one of their great prophets.

So this week, if you are Catholic you have an obligation to go to Mass. However don’t forget that it is also an opportunity.  If you are not Catholic, you are also welcome to attend.  Before I was Catholic, I remember being in the company of those who had to cancel a breakfast meeting due to their “obligation.”  However, I was never told what this meant and did not receive an invitation.  Now that I am Catholic, I want to share this opportunity and to invite all interested.  Local parishes usually have many Mass times and opportunities.

Road in Ephesus that leads to a theater where St. Paul preached. Ephesus is also reported to have the “House of Mary” where she spent the last days of her life here on earth.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

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Lives That Speak Love for God and Others: Two Saints from Auschwitz

The infamous Auschwitz gate, taken during a pilgrimage in 2005.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

This week has two different feast days of saints who had died in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. One on August 9, is for St. Benedicta of the Cross, a Carmelite; and the other on August 14 is for St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan.

St. Benedicta of the Cross

St. Benedicta of the Cross, otherwise known as Edith Stein, was born on October 10, 1892 in Breslau, Germany. Jewish by birth, at the age of 14 she declared herself an atheist.  Having a brilliant mind, she first studied German, history, women’s issues of her day, and then pursued philosophy.  She earned a doctorate in philosophy summa cum laude from the University of Freiburg in 1917.  Her dissertation was entitled, “The Problem of Empathy.”  She became a teaching assistant to Edmund Husserl, a phenomenologist, and wrote articles on the philosophical foundations of psychology.  In spite of her desire for a professorship, as a woman she was prohibited and was further refused on account of her Jewish background.

In her search for truth, Edith found the mystical autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila which she read in one night.  This discovery led to her conversion to the Catholic Church with her baptism on New Year’s Day in 1922.  She stated, “”I had given up practicing my Jewish religion when I was a 14-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.”  She had felt that she was connected to Christ not only spiritually but also through her blood (obtained from She immediately desired to become a Carmelite nun. But under spiritual direction she was advised to take teaching positions at schools for religious, was an extensive speaker on women’s issues, was a prolific writer, and translated works by Cardinal Neumann and Thomas Aquinas.  At this point of her life she strived to combine scholarship with her faith. She stated, “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.”  Although she was very learned and profound, she remained very practical and in touch with everyday life.

After Nazi Germany banned her from teaching, she entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne. Edith Stein took on the name St. Benedicta of the Cross, making her eternal profession on April 21, 1938.  As Nazi terrorism spread throughout Europe, Edith Stein was smuggled across the border to Echt, Netherlands.  Her sister, Rosa, had also converted to Catholicism and had joined the same convent. In 1942 Edith Stein, Rosa, and other members of the convent while at prayer in a chapel were arrested by the Gestapo. She was last heard to say to her sister as she left Echt, “Come, we are going for our people.”

She died in the gas chambers at within days of reaching Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.

St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894 in Russian-occupied Poland.  His parents were very devout Roman Catholics.  He was noted to be a very mischievous as a boy but his mother noted that he spent many hours at the altar of Our Lady of Czestochowa praying and crying. During his childhood he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary where she asked him to choose between two crowns:  A white one for purity, and a red one for martyrdom.  He responded by requesting to receive both.

St. Maximilian became a Conventual Franciscan as a priest friar.  Having an aptitude for studies, he had obtained doctorates both in philosophy and theology.  As a friar he established the Militia Immaculata movement, or “Army of Mary” where he worked for the conversion of sinners and to establish fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary around the world. This included the wearing of the Miraculous Medal as a sign of this devotion and promoted consecration to Jesus through Mary.

He founded the monastery of Niepokalanów or “Marytown” near Warsaw which became a major publishing center and radio station. This friary grew to over 800 men. Through the media he spoke out against the atrocities of the Nazi regime and promoted his Catholic faith.  Fr. Kolbe became director of Poland’s chief Catholic publishing complex, which published both a monthly magazine, “The Knight of the Immaculata” with a circulation of about one million and a daily paper with a circulation of about 125,000. He also was a missionary to Japan, establishing another “Marytown” near Nagasaki. He also went to India.

As St. Maximilian Kolbe grew older, his health, which had never been very strong, became worse . He had contracted tuberculosis, suffered from violent headaches, and had been covered with abscesses.  He even spent some time in a sanitarium but never achieved full recovery.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Fr. Kolbe hid refuges in the monastery at Niepokalanów.  It was just a matter of time before the Gestapo rounded up St. Maximilian along with many of his fellow friars in 1941.

He was transferred to Auschwitz.  After three prisoners had escaped from the camp, the guards selected ten inmates to die in retribution.  St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children. The ten were taken to an underground bunker where they were starved to death.  Fr. Kolbe led the others in prayer and singing during their ordeal. After two weeks with no food or water, St. Maximilian was the only one still alive.  The guards ended his life by giving him a lethal injection of carbolic acid.  St. Maximilian was cremated on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

My connection to these saints of Auschwitz

My family and I visited the grounds of Auschwitz and adjoining prison camp of Birkenau on a pilgrimage in 2005. My memory is filled with the solemnity of the place.  I remember standing on the infamous train platform being overcome by a sudden drop in my blood sugar and breaking out in a cold sweat. My time was interrupted, and in a frantic effort to prevent myself from fainting, I sought out a package of nabs in an adjoining snack shop.  As I stood there scarfing down my crackers, I was hit with the realization that none of the passengers had such a convenience when they met their deaths here decades ago. 

Later I remember seeing Pope Benedict XVI visit the same location during thunderstorms at which time a rainbow appeared during the television broadcast above the markers dedicated to the many who had lost their lives there.  To me it was quite miraculous that the dark clouds had departed at the point of the Holy Father’s visit. I was at a loss to note that to my knowledge no mention of the rainbow during the Pope’s visit ever appeared on the major news networks.

When my family moved to the Chicago area in 2011, I discovered the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown which happened to be down the road from my home in Libertyville.  Upon my conversion to the Catholic Church, my family and I became members of the Militia Immaculata which involves consecration to Jesus through Mary.  The Conventual Franciscan at Marytown still carry out the mission of St. Maximilian Kolbe of increasing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Our connection to St. Benedict of the Cross and St. Maximilian Kolbe

These two deaths were not sudden last minute acts of heroism.  Their whole lives prepared them for the sacrifices that they made. Their work helped others– especially strangers, and continues to influence us today.  The Gospel states:  “greater love than this no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends.

According to St. Benedicta of the Cross:  “Whatever did not fit in with my plan did lie within the plan of God. I have an ever deeper and firmer belief that nothing is merely an accident when seen in the light of God, that my whole life down to the smallest details has been marked out for me in the plan of Divine Providence and has a completely coherent meaning in God’s all-seeing eyes. And so I am beginning to rejoice in the light of glory wherein this meaning will be unveiled to me.”

Their lives speak of abandonment to the will of God.  Their lives speak of sacrifice out of love for God and others.

Auschwitz. (c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at Auschwitz.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

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My Favorite Type of Bread


Loving bread is a family affair.
Family members at DiCamillos in Niagara Falls, NY last year.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady

The bread of my hometown

Most everyone has their own favorite version of bread. I remember loving the fresh-baked loaves from the ovens of DiCamillo Bakery in Niagara Falls, NY when I was a kid. Moving to the South, we never were able to find anything to match up to the flavor and texture of DiCamillo’s. Every trip to visit family in Niagara to this day includes a pilgrimage to one of their stores.There are times when we sat and ate slices in the car because we could not wait.  I have loaded it onto carry-on luggage. After I was married, my mother used to bring some with her on visits for us to stock in our freezer. Imagine the excitement when the company started shipping their products. My sister and I, who live out-of-town, have souvenir cookie canisters. Evidently we were not the only ones who loved their products.

In search of bagels

Somewhere along the line, I also developed a passion for bagels. Unfortunately this began when I lived in a town that did not have a bagel shop. So whenever I went on trips, I tried to get bagels. This was years before I eventually moved to Chicago where bagel franchises are on every block. Interestingly, now flooded with lots of bagels, I now have difficulty chewing them. The aging process has led to the development of arthritis in my jaw. Professional dental advice was to limit bagel consumption as to not aggravate my mandible joint. Life is full of ironies. When I was young with a healthy jaw there were no bagels.  Now with bagels galore– no jaw. One would think that through this process I would waste away to nothing.

Homemade Southern bread

I remember the time my husband’s stepmother made homemade bread. My husband’s father was from the mountains of Tennessee where everything homemade was a way of life. His stepmother patiently showed me the process of preparing the yeast and letting the dough rise. It seemed like an all-day affair; however, the results were well worth the effort.  I tried to duplicate it on occasion with some success.  I still have the instruction sheet buried somewhere. However I am much better at quick breads made with mammoth-sized zucchini or banana.  But come to think of it, I have not been making much bread lately.

My attempt at gluten-free

Then there is the gluten-free phase of my life.  I heard from somewhere that avoiding all gluten would help reduce my joint pains. So for about a month my family and I went on a gluten fast. I bought a half a dozen gluten-free cookbooks and whipped up all sorts of concoctions. My husband bought frozen gluten-free blocks of bread that could be used as a bricks for the foundation of our next house.  My kids hated every moment of it.  This only lasted for about a month.  I never noticed any change in myself.  Fortunately I did not have Crohn’s disease or an actual wheat allergy, so I decided to discontinue this particular diet.  My kids cheered. To this day, they cringe at the sight of me even touching a box of anything labeled “gluten-free.”  They would rather eat the cardboard box. My heart goes out to those who actually do have gluten sensitivity.  I know some people who do get gravely ill from eating any type of wheat.

One does not live on bread alone.

Fortunately we do not live on bread alone. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells the crowd, I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.(Jn 6:35).

This is the spiritual Bread for the journey of life. 

What is unique about this particular Bread is that it is actually Jesus’ own Body that believers can receive at Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately people didn’t understand what He was talking about back in the days of the Gospel.  And today a lot of people, even some Catholics, still don’t understand what He was talking about.

Learning about the Bread of Life is actually what led to my conversion to the Catholic Church.  When a validly ordained priest says the words of the consecration in the Eucharist the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Even though it looks like bread and wine, it is really the Body and Blood of Jesus. This process is referred to as transubstantiation.

This is our food for the journey as Christians.  It gives us spiritual strength to go the miles we have in life. When we are in the trenches and feel like we are at our last straw, Jesus’ Bread can help us along.  Not only help but make the difference. The results are full of grace and miraculous. It is a spiritual delight. And it is available everyday at Mass.  Unfortunately many don’t receive the Body and Blood of Jesus even on Sunday. So in essence they are starving themselves spiritually.  Sometimes it is through no fault of their own, they might not have never heard of this or been taught the Truth.  Even many Catholic school and catechized Christians have been ill-formed. Of course, one can’t be accountable for what they do not know.  At other times, it is because of one’s choice to live a life away from the Church, even though they do know better.

Bread from Heaven shadowed in the Old Testament.

God feeding His people with Bread from Heaven was foreshadowed in the Old Testament when the grumbling Israelites under the leadership of Moses received Manna in the desert (Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15).  How many of us are still in the desert of our own lives, mumbling like crazy?  The irony is that God does provide. The crowd in the Gospel says, “Sir, give us this Bread always.” (Jn 6:34). And he does provide abundantly at every Mass.

My favorite kind of bread 

Yeah, I still love DiCamillos for physical sustenance.  But for spiritual strength, I now have a new kind of favorite Bread. Fortunately,  I don’t have to travel so far.  It’s at my local parish.  Even though my journey to God continues to take my lifetime, I have something to help me along.

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.? So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  (John 6:24-35).

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A Saint for Those Thought To Be Unable to Amount to Anything

The Incorrupt Body of St. John Vianney. Taken during my pilgrimage to Ars.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady.

St. John Vianney: Having difficulty learning and being labeled as slow

There are saints for poor students, and especially for those who are perceived to be unable to ever amount to anything during their lifetime. St. John Vianney, or St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (1786-1859) as he is known in French, is one such saint. He was not only poor financially, but also poor in the area of scholastics.  St. John Vianney initially failed out of the seminary. Traditional learning and especially Latin were particularly difficult and next to impossible for him. He was criticized as being slow and dimwitted by his instructors and colleagues.

Born in Lyons, France to pious farmers, St. John Vianney had average intelligence. However, he entered the seminary due to his unwavering desire and call to become a priest. A major obstacle was his early lack of any formal education before the age of 20. During his childhood priests were forced to go into hiding.  He received his First Communion and Confirmation in secrecy as practicing the faith was illegal at the time of the French Revolution. The Catholic Church was re-established in France in 1802 but a lot of people did not know much about their faith which was a result of the former persecution. However, what  St. John Vianney lacked in book knowledge and training, he excelled in spiritual common sense. Through the help of “Fr. Balley”, his priest friend and tutor, St. John Vianney was eventually ordained. Fr. Balley had convinced the vicars general that where St. John fell short in intelligence was vastly compensated for in his piety and common sense.

Cure D’Ars:  Sent to the middle of nowhere

St. John Vianney was sent to a failing parish in a little known community known as Ars, thus he became known as the Cure d’Ars.  He was sent to Ars as it was assumed that he would not amount to anything and could do less harm there.  At first he was even denied the permission to hear confessions.  But before long, people from everywhere were travelling long distances to the small town of Ars to visit St. John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars. Word spread of his ability to guide souls and by 1855 pilgrims numbered 20,000 a year. During the last 10 years of his life, he spent 16-18 hours a day in the confessional.  Many miracles were attributed to the Cure d’Ars even while he was still alive. In particular he was noted to be able to “read souls,” had supernatural knowledge of the past and future, had an ability to heal the sick, and was able to obtain money and food for his charities and orphans.

Miraculous sustenance

What was most miraculous was how the St. John Vianney had lived.  He sustained himself on very little food which consisted only of a few plain boiled potatoes which hung from the ceiling of his meager room to preserve it from rats.  He also slept on a bare mattress or a pile of wood in the basement.  He denied himself any fruit or meat.  Such rations are considered insufficient nutrition to sustain anyone’s life.  Yet he was able to faithfully carry out his duties. He also had great appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and many of the Saints.

A family pilgrimage to see the incorrupt Cure D’Ars 

Pilgrims sought out his common sense coupled with deep love for God and reverence for the Sacraments.  With an almost inaudible tone of voice at the end of his life, he died at age 73. Due to his reputation he became known as the patron saint of priests.  His Feast Day is August 4.

My family and I were able to make a pilgrimage to Ars in about 2004.  We travelled several hours on a tour bus before we came upon a tiny little parish in what seemed like in the middle of nowhere.  We had time enough for Mass and then my husband grabbed a couple of jambon sandwiches next door to the Church for that evening’s long ride to our next pilgrimage stop in LaSalette. Within the Church at Ars we found the incorrupt body of St. John Vianney which is still entombed there. By incorrupt, it is thought to miraculously lack decay.  It is said that wax was placed upon his face at the time of death. I have included a picture of the body of St. John Vianney and of the parish of Ars at the beginning of this blog.

The sermons of St. John Vianney

Many of his common sense sermons have been published. Frequently his talks focused on turning away from sin, following the Ten Commandments, participating in the Sacraments, and the great love of God.  He had a lot to say to those who wasted their time in the taverns and warned the faithful and unfailthful alike of the spiritual consequences of impurity.  He was also a big proponent of remembering the Sabbath. However, in the midst of the fire and brimstone, he shared a lot of colorful wisdom, which is appreciated and practical even for our day.  What follows are a few excerpts:

St. John Vianney on suffering

Whether we will or not, we must suffer. There are some who suffer like the good thief, and others like the bad thief. They both suffered equally. But one knew how to make his sufferings meritorious, he accepted them in the spirit of reparation, and turning towards Jesus crucified, he received from His mouth these beautiful words: “This day you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The other, on the contrary, cried out, uttered curses and blasphemies, and expired in the most frightful despair. There are two ways of suffering – to suffer with love, and to suffer without love. The saints suffered everything with joy, patience, and perseverance, because they loved. As for us, we suffer with anger, vexation, and weariness, because we do not love. If we loved God, we would love crosses, we would wish for them, we would take pleasure in them…. We would be happy to be able to suffer for the love of Him who lovingly suffered for us. Of what do we complain? Alas! the poor infidels, who have not the happiness of knowing God and His infinite loveliness, have the same crosses that we have; but they have not the same consolations. You say it is hard? No, it is easy, it is consoling, it is sweet; it is happiness. Only we must love while we suffer, and suffer while we love… On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses..

St. John Vianney on our source of help

However, my dear brethren, what ought to console and reassure us is that we have to deal with a good Father Who will never allow our struggles to be greater than our strength, and every time we have recourse to Him, He will help us to fight and to conquer.

 St. John Vianney on the Eucharist

To sustain the soul in the pilgrimage of life, God looked over creation, and found nothing that was worthy of it. He then turned to Himself, and resolved to give Himself. O my soul, how great you are, since nothing less than God can satisfy you! The food of the soul is the Body and Blood of God! Oh, admirable Food! If we considered it, it would make us lose ourselves in that abyss of love for all eternity! How happy are the pure souls that have the happiness of being united to Our Lord by Communion! They will shine like beautiful diamonds in Heaven, because God will be seen in them.

The tiny parish in Ars, France where the Cure D’Ars, St. John Vianney, was a parish priest until 1859. His incorrupt body is still there today.
(c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady.

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When Others Appear to be Having all the Fun

Flowers and weeds in my garden. Some flowers have been scorched by the sun and others had been choked by weeds. It is not uncommon for the weeds to grow freely with my flowers! (c) 2012 The Catholic Counselor Lady.

The Big Lie.

There are certain myths that a lot of people believe in this life.  A big one is thinking that others in this life are having all the fun.  It is the thought that perhaps all these others have been spared difficulties.  The truth of the matter is that life is not a bowl of cherries. It’s not even a box of chocolates. Everyone gets trials. Everyone experiences some form of suffering. While it is true that some might indeed get a tougher dose than others, no one gets by unscathed.  It used to be said that the only sure things in this life are death and taxes. But these days some are able to squeeze by without paying any taxes (according to an April 26, 2012 CCNMoney article, nearly half of all American households end up owing no federal income tax).  But no one can escape their inevitable physical death.

Imagine the case of the person who would have had the perfect existence while on this earth:  Wealth, esteem, friends, beauty, and good health. Does anyone really know of such a person?  Then one day this person, totally unacquainted with suffering, has life ripped out from underneath him or her. The person is totally unprepared.  Death comes as a blow. Everything that this person held in the temporal material world is gone. The person goes on to either eternal loss or eternal life.

Think of all those who have fame and fashion.  Pick up a gossip magazine in the grocery store check-out and one will discover that such an existence isn’t so glorious. They are often in the midst of scandal and controversy, relationship break-ups, untimely deaths, and bankruptcy. Day after day the tabloids feature one fallen star after another.  Bodies are horribly botched and altered through plastic surgery, fad diets, and regimens in an effort to obtain the artificial culturally thin eternal look of youth.

The “no one suffers worse than I” myth.

Another way to phrase the “others appear to be having more fun” fallacy is the “no one suffers worse than I” myth.  We all know of at least one such a person. No matter what we have been through, they have always had it worse.  If we ache, their whole body is in intense pain. If we are short on cash, they are broke.  If we have a meager dwelling space, their whole house has burned down. If we had been mistreated as a child, they had been abused.  In the realm of distress, they honestly believe they have it worse than anyone else.  Everyone would like to tell such persons, “Get over yourself”.  I always think of the scene in Moonstruck where Cher slaps Nicholas Cage and yells, “Snap out of it.”  Because in reality, no matter how bad one has it, there will always be someone in a worse predicament. Just think of the innocent who suffer. All of us also know those who experience tragedies that they seemingly don’t deserve. It doesn’t take long to find someone who might have been aborted, falsely accused, starved, beaten, cursed, robbed, cheated, labelled intolerant, and/or abandoned.

Being told what one needs to hear.

The day I graduated from high school, my Mom told me that “life is not a bowl of cherries.”  She probably doesn’t even remember saying this.  At the time, I thought, “Gee, Mom thanks for the encouragement.”  But the older I get, the more I realize that her advice was the best.  Life does bite and then you die.  There is something critical to our condition here. Instead of trying to flee from the inevitable, we actually should embrace it.  What we are trying to evade actually has redemptive value and gives opportunity for spiritual growth even beyond ourselves and this life. We cannot eliminate sufferings but we can learn how to cope with them. Our sufferings are what can make us saints. How we bear our difficulties shows our true character. I always like to say that fighting Chicago traffic brings out the lowly beast in me.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (2015).

This is not to say that we should bring it upon ourselves, but trials, difficulties, suffering, and ultimately death will find us.

We bring a lot of suffering upon ourselves.

It is true that we are often our own worst enemies. This is often through our flawed decision-making ability. I have noticed that many (not all) persons who come for counseling are reaping the fallout of a poor decision somewhere. Their lives are like soap operas. They have victimized themselves and the goal is to get them out of that rut.  But the truth of the matter is that all of us do this.  We all make a mess of our own lives.  We are living in a world tainted by original sin and none of us can cast the first stone.  We live in an indulgent society that wants to forget long-held values.  We want things and we don’t want to wait for anything. The Catholic Church is viewed as counter-cultural with its pro-life and traditional marriage positions.  We have yet to see the modern-day consequences of removing the Ten Commandments from the center of our society. But we do have the age-old examples of those in history, Sacred Scripture, and in the Tradition of the Church. The wisdom of the ancients isn’t enough for some hipsters. 

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, writes in his book, Arise from Darkness, “If there is anything obvious in the New Testament, it is that to compromise with the values of the world is not only to betray God, but to defeat your own cause, to bring down upon yourself all kinds of disasters, not from God but from self (p. 91).” 

Let me make this clear – God does not cause evil and suffering, just in case anyone is in the business of blaming God.  Only good comes from God. 

God brings good out of evil

The end result of all of one’s suffering can actually be a good one.  God can and does make something good out of it.  When all is lost, God remains.  He does not change. There is something very beautiful about losing control over our lives – we have the opportunity to let God have control.  When we are at the end of our rope, God’s arms are stretched out on the Cross to guide us.  And when we think that someone else is having all of the fun, just remember that Jesus took it upon Himself to be crucified for our sake.

For a while He allows the weeds to grow along with the healthy plants. Saturday’s Gospel speaks of God’s ultimate harvest (Matthew 13:24-30):

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.

Whether or not we go on to eternal loss or eternal life depends on how we are anchored, whether we are the weed or the wheat.  If we anchor ourselves down with only temporal and material securities, like a weed, we could find ourselves with eternal loss. However if we are rooted in God we can face eternal life.  It was Jesus who said, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

How dare the Harvest Master be so discriminating!

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