Road Trip Reflections: Finding Peace in “God’s Country”

Tags

, , , ,

In our pastor’s weekly Friday email to his parishioners last week, he mentioned that many people are on edge because of the challenges and upheaval that seem to be occurring in our country this summer. He recognized how good it would be for us to find some peace – “peace in our hearts…homes…communities…nation and world. We know that the Lord Jesus gives us a peace that the world cannot give, but we also know that we need to do our part to bring about peace.” He suggested two ways we can bring about our own peace: to not be troubled by trouble, and to spend time outdoors. This road trip has fulfilled both of those requirements for me, bringing me much peace.

Being troubled by trouble means, to me, letting events and situations that I don’t like, did not choose, cannot change, and even things that are beyond rational understanding, control my emotions. It includes worrying about the future. Here in the mountains of Montana, it is so very easy to forget about the outside world and all that is going on. We have no television, and we have limited cellular access so it is difficult to stay up on current events. After two weeks of this life it makes me want to never listen to or read a news report again. In place of those distractions, I have spent more time in prayer, time with family, and time in nature. All have brought me peace.

Ratine Creek

Rising early in the morning to spend time in mental prayer is something I do on a daily basis, even at home. But, sitting outside on a brisk morning in July/August, next to the little creek that runs just a few yards in front of the cabin, takes peaceful meditation to a whole new level. I not only read and hear the word of God, but it’s easy to feel His presence around me as I pray.

We spent most of our first week here with our children and grandchildren. After they left on Wednesday, Melinda and I had the cabin to ourselves for a couple days. On Friday, Melinda’s sister and her husband arrived from Marble Falls, Texas to stay at the cabin for a couple weeks after we leave. Another sister and her husband came in from Rapid City, South Dakota on Friday and stayed through Sunday. Together, we took advantage of the mild weather and spent peaceful time outside in nature as we hiked, fished, and sawed and cleaned up fallen timber around the cabin.

9 inch Rainbow Trout

Talking about fishing, I fished Rock Creek on Thursday and got shut out, but caught a nice Rainbow and a small Brown trout on Saturday.

Melinda and I hiked the Corral Creek Trail, or rather, we hiked the first mile of the trail which included an 800 foot elevation gain, before we reached a questionable log bridge we would have had to cross. We decided it was a good place to turn around and head back down.

Hare Bells
Indian Paintbrush

We saw many beautiful wildflowers lining the trail and took time to examine them and take photos. The trail itself was only a couple feet wide so we were thankful we saw no bears with whom we would have had to share that narrow path.

Showy Daisy
Blanket Flower

Talking about bears, Melinda and I were driving down the dirt road that runs along Rock Creek on Thursday evening and, as we rounded a bend, a large black bear crossed our path just a few yards in front of us. It stopped, looked at us and then headed up the hill towards our cabin. Fortunately, we didn’t see him again.

But, on Friday evening, we were looking out a window of the cabin and a cow moose and her calf came trotting up along side. Seeing Melinda’s sister walking up the path towards the cabin, the moose stopped in the middle of our outdoor sitting area. Moose are huge! And, a mama moose can get belligerent if she thinks her calf is in danger. Fortunately, she must not have felt threatened and they turned and sauntered back down the hill.

Fireweed
Lupine

On Sunday evening, we drove up Rock Creek Canyon to the end of the road hoping to see more wildlife. They must have heard us coming because all we saw was a doe deer, a chipmunk and a squirrel. But, as a consolation prize, God granted us an almost unbelievably beautiful view of the creek and the mountain from which the creek flows. The sun shining on the mountain top was truly magnificent!

Sunset on Rock Creek Canyon

We packed and loaded up on Monday morning and began our return trip home. Our destination for the night was Rapid City, South Dakota to spend a couple days with Melinda’s sister and her family. But, first we stopped in Billings to visit an old friend, Mikey, with whom I used to work many years ago. The very first time I ever met Mikey in 1986 I asked him where he was from, and he replied, “God’s Country!” Not knowing where that was I asked him to be more specific to which he replied, “Montana”. Ever since then he has invited me to stop and see him the next time I came to “God’s Country”. This time I finally obliged his invitation. Mikey, it was great to see you and Annette again after so many years. Thanks for lunch!

Driving across the plains of northeastern Wyoming, we saw many pronghorn antelope beneath dark gray storm clouds that, thankfully, we were able to outrun. As we neared South Dakota, the Black Hills provided the perfect visual backdrop for praying our daily Rosary with our friend from Louisiana, with whom we joined our prayers with those of our Blessed Mother for the many people we know who are suffering. It was a perfect and peaceful way to end the day.

“Oh, Glorious God, thank You again for the beauty of Your creation, both the natural beauty and that which resides in the hearts of friends and family. Thank You for the peace You bring when we immerse ourselves in Your loving gifts instead of the fleeting pleasures the world has to offer. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Finding Peace in “God’s Country” was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: Family, Fun and Fly Fishing

Tags

, , , ,

Hello, friends. I left you hanging over a week ago in Fargo, North Dakota. We have since reached our destination, our little cabin in the mountains outside of Red Lodge, Montana, where we have no internet. I’ve also spent the last several days with our children and grandchildren which is more important than running to the coffee shop in town to access their WI-FI.

On Wednesday, the 22nd, we left Fargo for Billings, Montana under a deep blue, cloudless sky, and temps in the low 60’s. This was my first trip to the “Peace Garden State”. You might ask why I went so far north rather than take the shorter route across I-80 or I-90. Well, North Dakota was one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) that I had not driven through. Now I can check this one off my list.

We stopped in Bismarck, the state capital, to visit with a friend, Bernice, whom we met a year ago on our pilgrimage to Italy. We spent two hours catching up with each other and reliving moments from our pilgrimage. At one point our conversation turned to our faith and shortly a young mother with three children sat down at our table under the pavilion we were occupying in the park. She wore a t-shirt that said, “Be a ….Saint”, with the letters of the word “Saint” spelled out using the names of real saints. I caught her attention and said, “I like your shirt!” to which she responded, “I heard you talking about praying the Rosary!” It turned out she is a school teacher at the local Catholic school. Coincidence that we were there together? I don’t think so. (Bernice, thank you for the goodie bag! Everything was delicious!)

North Dakota Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

As we drove westward across the state on I-94, the topography changed from being flat in the east with corn as far as the eye could see, to undulating fields of corn and soybeans in the central part of the state, and then rolling hills of grassland and cattle in the west. Not far from the Montana state line we stopped at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit and drove through the Badlands of North Dakota.

We arrived at our hotel in Billings, Montana after dark with 670 miles for the day.

On Thursday morning we hit the road one more time for the final hour and a half to our cabin just south of Red Lodge. We arrived early enough to unload and get situated before our daughters and their families began arriving from Seattle, Washington, Olathe, Kansas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Memphis, Tennessee.

For the next four days, the 16 of us (two grandparents, four daughters, three sons-in-law, and seven grandchildren age 5 and under) had fun being together. We played, explored, hiked, fished, cooked, ate, shopped, and reconnected. The cousins, who seldom see each other, had fun and got a little rambunctious at times, driving their parents a little crazy. But, that’s what little ones do. We know, their mothers did the same to us. Regardless of the noise and shenanigans, It was wonderful spending time with them.

Cousins

Two daughters and their families left on Tuesday, and the others left early Wednesday morning to catch their flights home out of Billings. For the first time in a week Melinda and I were by ourselves in a quiet cabin. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the peace and quiet, but it didn’t take long to miss the whining, the pitter-patter of little feet, and lightning-fast hands getting into things they shouldn’t get into. We’re already looking forward to the next time we can all get together, whenever that will be.

What do you do to get past the shock of missing your family after such an enjoyable time? You go fishing of course! There’s no better way to distract yourself than to be standing in a clear mountain stream waving a fly rod in the air. I found a nice spot on Rock Creek just down from the cabin and caught two Rainbows on a size 14 beaded nymph.

Rock Creek

In my opinion, fly fishing is only a step or two away from heaven. Even though following the drift of my fly takes intense concentration, my mind and heart still found a way to recognize the beauty and majesty of our God, and all that He has created. Between casts, I gave thanks to Him for this week, for my dear wife, children and grandchildren, for the love we have between us, and for the love that He has shown me through them.

I gave thanks for all the natural beauty we’ve seen this week: from the corn fields of Illinois, the pastures and dairy farms of Wisconsin, the woodlands of Minnesota, the prairie of North Dakota, and the grasslands, mountains and streams of Montana. All different but beautiful, all unique in their own way, but all precious and valuable to the people who live there. We go to great lengths to experience the wonder of God’s creation in all its forms, and we go out of our way to take care of it.

The most amazing of His creations, however, are us, His people. It occurred to me how different life would be if we marveled at people the same way as we do nature, and similarly valued life. What if we approached other people with an interest to learn more about them, trying to find out what makes him or her unique and what makes them beautiful? Just as we might study a geologic formation or the flora and fauna of a region, imagine how much we could learn from the experiences of other people if we took the time to get to know them.

With social media replacing real human interaction, society is becoming more and more isolated. Just as there is something special about road trips where you can see the country up close instead of simply looking at photographs, we ought to set the electronics aside and take more “personal road trips” to explore our neighbors, our friends, and our own families on a close and personal level.

God created us to be social beings, to accompany each other through life. Jesus asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but it’s hard for people to feel loved if we don’t know them. He asked us to grow His Kingdom by leading others to an encounter with Him, but it’s difficult to lead people who don’t know us and who feel as though we don’t care about them. We need to take time to share a meal, sit around a campfire, take a hike, play a game, (or better yet, go fly fishing together!) and for other activities which offer the opportunity to get to know each other. When we do these things, we need to be interested in the other person, and intentionally seek to know and understand them. Then, perhaps, when the time is right, they may be open to a discussion about faith. Then, we can do His will by leading others to Him.

There are a plethora of bad things going on in the world today. The media, both television and social, focus on the things that take away our peace, and instill in us fear and worry about the future. This is just what the Evil One wants. But, it’s only in the present moment that we are able to do God’s will. Thus, if we want to change the world, we have to first look within ourselves and take advantage of every opportunity to see Jesus in others and let them see Him in us.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the time we’ve had together as family this week. Thank You for Your beautiful creations, both the natural beauty of our country and for the people You place in our lives. Lord, give me the grace to do Your will and lead others to You. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Family, Fun, and Fly Fishing was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: New Cars and Old Songs

Tags

, ,

I slept well Monday night and awoke early and made time for my daily prayer and meditation before getting back on the road. The Gospel for the day was from Mt 12:46-50 in which Jesus tells us, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” He’s telling us that if we would just live God’s commandments, we will be adopted into His family for all eternity. That doesn’t sound too difficult. Just keep it between the ditches and we’ll be fine. I wish it was that easy.

I forgot to mention that last week we purchased a new car, a new Subaru Outback, and we’re driving it on this trip. The technology on these vehicles is getting more advanced every year. One feature that I kind of like is the lane departure warning. When you approach either the center line or the right edge of the lane, the car gives an audible warble and a visible yellow flashing light at the base of the windshield above the steering wheel indicating that you veered too close to the edge of the lane. It also tells you that you have made a “lane departure” if you cross the center line without first turning on your turn signal indicator.

At first, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the car telling me how to drive. But, then, it dawned on me that all it wants me to do is keep it between the ditches, so to speak, to follow the commandments of good driving. I thought how nice it would be if life came with such technology that could keep us from sinning. But, then I realized that we already have that technology within us. It’s called our conscience. It’s OEM equipment which God installed in us at the factory. It lets us know when we are getting close to doing something wrong, and when we’ve crossed over the line either intentionally or unintentionally. The best part is that when we wreck the car because we have failed to heed the warnings, and we bring it back to the manufacturer, sorrowful and with intentions to steer straight and true from then on, He forgives us and strengthens within us the virtue of prudence to drive properly and safely.

Leaving Madison, we headed for Minneapolis-St. Paul to meet up with Melinda’s two nieces and one of them’s husband and son. We enjoyed two hours of catching up, good conversation, a delicious lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches, and entertaining the little one.

After saying our goodbyes, we got on I-94 and headed northeast toward Fargo, North Dakota, our stopping point for the night. An hour or so into the drive we passed an exit for St. John’s University near Collegeville, Minnesota. What’s special about St. John’s, you ask? It is the Alma Mater of my friend and co-founder of this blog, Rich Brewers. St. John’s University and St. John’s Abbey sits on the shore of Lake Sagatagan, as does the Stella Maris Chapel, the brick chapel you have seen in the header photo of this page over the years. I’ve always loved the image of that chapel sitting there in silence and solitude as if it, itself, were praying to God, with it’s reflection in the lake urging us to do the same.

Our new car also came with a three-month free trial of satellite radio. I found a station that plays old-time country music from folks like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Ernest Tubb. An old song came on, Bobby Bare’s version of Loretta Lynn’s and Conway Twitty’s 1976 release of God Bless America, Again. As I listened to the lyrics I thought, “Yes, Lord, please bless America, again!”

“God bless America, again. You see all the troubles that she’s in. Wash her pretty face, dry her eyes and then, God bless America again.

“God, I sure do wish you’d bless America again. You know, like you did way back when it all began. You blessed her then, but we just sorta kind took it for granted, and never did ask again. So, just hold her hand God, that’s all. And, if she should stumble please don’t let her fall. God bless America, again.

“You know I don’t understand everything I’m readin’ here about what’s wrong with America….”

That last line grabbed me. If things were out of whack in 1976, how much more so are they today? I don’t understand, either. But, I’m here living it now, doing my best. I didn’t choose the way things are, I don’t necessarily like the way things are, and there’s not too much I can do to change the way things are other than to vote, pray and be the best person and disciple that God intended for me to be so that I can be an example to others.

After a second day of 504 miles, we made it safely to our hotel in time for a short walk before it was Rosary time.

(Note: Folks, I know I’m a couple days behind. Bear with me, I’ll post as I can. Thank you.)

“Good and Gracious God, thank You for another day of seeing this beautiful land, for family to visit, and for the inspirations You provide that come from the ordinary things in our lives. Give me the grace to follow Your commandments so that I will never exclude myself from Your family. And, give me the grace, I pray, to be the kind of disciple, husband, father, son, brother and friend that You created me to be. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: New Cars and Old Songs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Road Trip Reflections: Rosaries, Sunsets and Signs

Tags

, , , , ,

Road trips. I love ’em! I love to get behind the wheel and go, just my wife, me, and the highway for eight to ten hours a day. It’s been way too long since our last one! The social isolation of COVID-19 has, for the most part, kept us home. Melinda and I did venture out last week, along with 12 others from our parish, to participate in a mission trip to Appalachia Kentucky to repair houses for those who can no longer afford to maintain their homes (perhaps a future post?). Other than that, we’ve stayed at home since mid-March.

Yesterday afternoon, full of anticipation, we hit the road heading northwest for an almost three week excursion that will include a long over due family reunion with all our children and grandchildren. Leaving Cincinnati on I-74, we pointed the car towards Indianapolis, Indiana, and then Bloomington, Illinois. At Bloomington, we turned north on I-39 and motored towards Madison, Wisconsin, for our first night out.

We made the turn at Bloomington about 7:30 p.m., and we broke out our Rosaries. Melinda and I have faithfully prayed the Rosary together every day since the first of April. When Pope Francis wrote his letter on 25 April encouraging everyone to pray the Rosary daily during the month of May, we invited a friend to join us. Our friend, who lives in Louisiana, was struggling with the social isolation and welcomed the opportunity to spend time together. Since May 1st, every evening at 7:30 p.m. we have FaceTimed and prayed the Rosary together, asking Our Blessed Mother to intercede for the health and well being of a long list of people. Being on the road was not going to keep us from joining together in prayer and meditation.

We prayed our Rosary, laughed and chatted for a bit, and then, about half way to Rockford, Illinois, said our goodbyes just as the sun was setting. Overhead were heavy gray clouds, but away on the horizon the sun found a chink through which it set the sky on fire with a fierce beauty the likes of which I haven’t seen in thirty years! Since I was driving and couldn’t do more than chance a quick glance at that marvelous sight, I asked Melinda to snap a photo so I could relive that beautiful moment when we stopped for the night.

Sunset in Northern Illinois, 20 July 2020

I recalled that morning’s Gospel passage from Mt 12:38-42 in which the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus to give them a sign to help them believe. I found comfort knowing that I don’t need to see a sign to believe, rather I see the signs because I believe. This sunset seemed to be God’s way of thanking me for my belief. Thank you, Lord!

We arrived safely at our hotel in Madison, Wisconsin after 504 miles and eight and a half hours of driving. It was a great day! Road trips, I love ‘em! I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring. Check back to find out.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to travel in this great land, Your creation, with all its magnificence and beauty. Thank You for the finishing touches that only You, the Artist of artists, can paint. Thank You for friends with whom we can love and be loved and grow closer to You, together. And, thank You, Lord, for protecting us in our travels. Please watch over my family as we travel to be with each other. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Rosaries, Sunsets and Signs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

My Sanctuary, My Refuge

Tags

, , , , , , ,

King David Playing the Harp, Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Sometimes when one is practicing meditation, or mental prayer, it is so frustratingly easy to get distracted! There you are, you’ve placed yourself in the presence of God and you’re trying to stay focused on Him. But then, your mind drifts to some far off place that may seem totally disassociated with anything else, and before you know it you’ve spent who knows how long down that path. When you eventually do realize how far you’ve strayed, you pull yourself back to the present moment and try to refocus on the Lord.

This happened to me yesterday. I was kneeling before the tabernacle in our Adoration chapel at church, giving thanks for His love and mercy, and just generally soaking up the grace of being in His presence. Then I got distracted. When I finally came back to the present moment I realized that I had just been replaying in my mind scenes from a favorite movie, Remember the Titans, a 2000 production based on a true story. A movie I haven’t watched in many years.

In the movie, Denzel Washington plays the role of Herman Boone, an African-American football head coach at a newly racially integrated high school in Alexandria, Virginia. Coach Boone is charged with integrating black and white students into a functioning and winning football team amidst a culture that not only has been segregated for generations, but one that lives for it’s high school football. The task seems insurmountable as it requires every ounce of his courage, leadership, and diplomacy.

After viewing Boone’s challenges of building a united team at summer football camp; attempting to build respect and cohesion with his white assistant coaches; and the ever present friction (including threats to his family) from the predominantly white community, we are taken to a scene at the football field the night before the first game of the season. Coach Boone walks out into the bleachers and, looking out over the lighted field, utters, “Yeah, this is my sanctuary right here!” The football field was where he could put the world, and all the problems in it, out of his mind. It was his safe harbor, his refuge. It was where he had some control.

It was after this “scene” that I realized I was daydreaming instead of praying. My first reactions were to apologize, thinking, “I’m sorry, Lord, I can’t even give you ten minutes without wandering off!”, and then to wonder, “Where in the world did that memory come from?”!

As I tried to get back into the moment, Coach Boone’s utterance, “Yeah, this is my sanctuary right here!” popped back into my mind. Then I realized what I was saying. I was in my sanctuary, my place of refuge, right there in front of Jesus in the tabernacle. The only difference was that, unlike it being Coach Boone’s place where he felt in control, it was my place of solitude where I could relinquish control and place all my trust in the goodness and mercy of God. It’s where I could forget the physical, economic and political messiness of the current world pandemic and simply bask in God’s love.

I recalled verses from Psalm 31 (vv. 2-6):

In you, Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me; incline your ear to me; make haste to rescue me!
Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to save me.
For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.
Free me from the net that has been set for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

And, I thought, “Wherever I am, Lord, especially in the Adoration chapel, you are there, also. Yeah, this is my sanctuary, right here!”

“Lord Jesus, You are my rock and my refuge, my sanctuary. Thank You for Your generosity. And, thank You for the grace to realize that sometimes distractions aren’t that at all, but actually loving inspirations sent from You through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.”

(My Sanctuary, My Refuge was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Pope Francis: A Special Call to Pray the Rosary During the Month of May, 2020

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

On Saturday, 25 April 2020, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the world inviting all people to pray a Rosary, either individually or, preferably, as a family, every day during the month of May (the Pope’s letter is included below). May is, of course, traditionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. But, in light of the world pandemic that has disrupted our physical, social, economic, and spiritual lives, praying the Rosary can be a special way in which we implore Our Lady to intercede with Jesus for relief from our plight, and to let her help us stay focused on Him during this difficult time.

Many miracles have been attributed to the intercession of Our Lady as a result of praying the Rosary, and I, for one, believe that, considering the messy state the world is in right now, we need a miracle.

Many of you faithful may already pray a Rosary daily. Others may pray it periodically, but, unfortunately, too many don’t pray a Rosary at all. If you are unfamiliar with how to pray a Rosary, there are several resources available. Most parish churches offer a printed guide to praying the Rosary. There are on-line resources and applications, such as the Laudate app, that offer a variety of ways to pray the Rosary.

I suspect there are many reasons people do not pray it regularly, one of which is that they don’t understand the history and efficaciousness of the Rosary. The Rosary has been prayed since the early days of the Church. Over the centuries it has been instrumental in: helping Christian armies win battles when they were seriously outnumbered (e.g. the Battle of Lepanto, 1571, and the Battle of Vienna, 1683); defending against heresies; overturning of Communism in Eastern Europe in the 20th century; and, certainly, many personal miracles and answered prayers.

Another predominant reason many do not pray the Rosary, I believe, is that they think it is boring and repetitive, and they get nothing out of it. I know that was my opinion after I converted and thought I ought to pray the Rosary because that’s what I was supposed to do as a Catholic. I taught myself how to pray it by following step-by-step instructions printed on a trifold flyer that I picked off of a shelf in a church foyer somewhere. But, after praying a Rosary, I usually felt I had just wasted twenty minutes.

I eventually learned that, while praying the Rosary, we are supposed to meditate on the various events, or mysteries, in Christ’s life (e.g. Joyful, Glorious, Sorrowful and Luminous mysteries) by placing ourselves in the company of our Mother and, with her, contemplate the face of her son in the context of those various mysteries as each Hail Mary is recited. Understanding this helped me significantly in my spiritual growth.

A method of praying the Rosary that I find particularly effective is one called a “Scriptural Rosary”. When prayed with this method, a short verse from Scripture is recited before each bead of the Rosary. This method prompts one to reflect on each aspect of the mystery. A scriptural Rosary is available on the Laudate app.

Then I discovered a new “old” way to pray the Rosary. It is the method which Our Blessed Lady made known to St. Dominic in the early 13th century as he was fighting to convert Catholics back to the faith who had fallen to heretical views. Under her inspiration, St. Dominic gathered people together in their homes and shared with them the teachings of Jesus. Then, after each of five short teachings, he recited the Our Father and ten Hail Marys. In this way, St. Dominic, by teaching from the full Deposit of Faith, brought many fallen away Catholics back to the Church. The Holy Family School of Faith offers this method of praying the Rosary as a podcast that you can find here: Daily Rosary Meditation. (Note: be sure to click on the button, “Why do you pray the Rosary that way?”)

In his letter, Pope Francis emphasizes his desire that we pray as a family. Praying as a family brings us into union with one another and amplifies our prayers to Mary who brings them to Jesus. In normal times, “families” might be expanded into “groups” which might include friends and neighbors as well as family. Whether it’s just your family or a larger group who have come together to pray a Rosary, these settings are conducive to building friendship and creating good conversation through which all participants may grow spiritually.

Finally, I realize that there are occasionally non-Catholics (e.g. some of my own family) who read this blog and who do not understand why we have a devotion to the Virgin Mary nor why we invoke her intercession through a Rosary prayer. If any non-Catholic would like to join me in praying a Rosary, I will be happy to lead them through. I encourage you, also, as engaged Catholics to invite your non-Catholic family and friends to pray the Rosary with you.

I pray that you and all the faithful will renew yourselves spiritually during this month of May, especially since so many parishes still will not offer mass due to pandemic restrictions. May we all, in union with each other, grow closer to our Lord, Jesus Christ, through His and our Mother, Mary.


LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
TO THE FAITHFUL FOR THE MONTH OF MAY 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The month of May is approaching, a time when the People of God express with particular intensity their love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is traditional in this month to pray the Rosary at home within the family. The restrictions of the pandemic have made us come to appreciate all the more this “family” aspect, also from a spiritual point of view.

For this reason, I want to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May. This can be done either as a group or individually; you can decide according to your own situations, making the most of both opportunities. The key to doing this is always simplicity, and it is easy also on the internet to find good models of prayers to follow.

I am also providing two prayers to Our Lady that you can recite at the end of the Rosary, and that I myself will pray in the month of May, in spiritual union with all of you. I include them with this letter so that they are available to everyone.

Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial. I keep all of you in my prayers, especially those suffering most greatly, and I ask you, please to pray for me. I thank you, and with great affection I send you my blessing.

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 25 April 2020
Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist

Pope Francis

(Click here to be linked to the Vatican website to read the original letter and the two prayers mentioned.)

(Pope Francis: A Special Call to Pray the Rosary in the Month of May, 2020 was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Mission: Possible

Tags

, , ,

(A reflection on today’s first reading from Acts 9:1-20)

Ananais Restoring the Sight of St. Paul, Jean Il Restout, 1719, The Louvre Museum

One of my favorite television series as a child in the 60’s was Mission: Impossible. At the beginning of each episode, Jim Phelps (played by actor Peter Graves) received a tape recorded message describing a mission being presented to him that began, “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it….”. Each mission was complicated and dangerous and had a high likelihood of ending with him and his team of secret agents losing their lives. Without fail, Agent Phelps accepted the impossible mission and successfully completed it.

This memory came from out of nowhere this morning as I read the Scripture for the day. The first reading from Acts is the account of Saul’s conversion and baptism. The Lord struck Saul, blinded him and left him to sit praying at the house of Judas for three days. Simultaneously, the Lord called upon Ananais, a follower of the Way, to go to Saul and lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. The Lord told Ananais, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for in my name.”

Scripture doesn’t say, but Ananais either passed that message along to Saul or it came to Saul via the Holy Spirit, and he immediately began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues of Damascus.

God created Saul just like the rest of us, with free will to accept him or to turn away from him. Saul chose to accept Jesus as the Son of God and, in so doing, accepted what had to seem like an impossible mission at the time: convince and convert the entire world to do the same. One difference between Saul and Jim Phelps was that Saul knew the mission, in the end, would definitely result in his death.

Saul, the other Apostles, and the saints throughout the centuries made a pretty good start at converting the world. But, the work is still not completed. God calls each of us in our baptism and confirmation to continue their work. With the condition the world is in today, it may seem like an even more impossible mission. Yet, we can do it one person at a time, because the other difference between our work and Jim Phelps’ is that, with God, all things are possible!

What can you do today to be part of the Mission: Possible team?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love. Lord Jesus, thank You for Your forgiveness and mercy. Holy Spirit, thank You for opening my heart to the will of God and urging me to continue the work of the Apostolic Fathers and saints in this Mission: Possible.

“I resolve today, Lord, to reach out to a friend who is hurting and invite her to join my wife and I in praying a Rosary for healing during the month of May, per our Holy Father’s request. Amen.”

(Mission: Possible was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Cardinal at My Window

Tags

, , , , , ,

Some people are keeping track of the number of days they’ve been in lockdown, or quarantine, or whatever you want to call it. I haven’t kept track because it really doesn’t matter. Today is today and it’s here that the Lord meets us. Not in our memories of yesterday or our worries about tomorrow. Today.

That’s easy to say, but lately it hasn’t been easy for me to feel the Lord’s presence. I’ve been faithful to my daily prayer and meditation, yet I miss receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and I feel my spiritual life has grown a little stale.

Yesterday morning as I was eating breakfast and trying to figure out what I would do during the day, I heard a tapping at my living room window. I curiously checked it out and found a bright red male cardinal fluttering his wings and striking the glass with his beak. He would tap for a few seconds and then fly to a nearby branch of a pink dogwood tree. Shortly, he would come back and repeat the performance.

That beautiful and persistent little guy kept up his routine throughout the day until nightfall and then came back this morning with renewed vigor. And, he’s been at it all day today! Tap, tap, tap on the window. It’s like there’s something in here that he wants.

Maybe he wants my attention.

I recalled reading somewhere that a cardinal sighting represents an angel or the spirit of a loved one who has returned to let one know they are with you and watching over you. Interested, I did an on-line search along those lines and I came up with a few hits from New-Age or psychic resources that point to this being a Christian belief. But, I know that superstition and Christianity don’t mix. I know that a black cat crossing one’s path isn’t an assurance of bad luck. And, I’m pretty sure there’s no reference in Scripture tying cardinals to the spirits of those who have passed.

Yet, while I don’t believe in superstition, I do believe that God sends us signs. Is a cardinal the definitive sign God has chosen to tell us that a loving spirit is watching over us? I don’t think so. But, can God send us a loving spirit as a sign through a cardinal? Certainly He can! God created it. He can do what He wants.

Needing to spend some time reading and meditating on the Scripture de jour, I set all those thoughts about cardinals aside and found my place of silence and solitude. I read in today’s first reading: “Jesus was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him… “(Acts 2:22); “I saw the Lord ever before me…” (v. 25); “my heart has been glad and my tongue exulted…” (v. 26); and “…You will fill me with joy in Your presence.” (v. 28).

In the Psalm (Ps 16), I read, “I keep the Lord always before me;…therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices.” (v. 8-9).

And, the Gospel, Lk 24:13-35, recounted the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; how at first they didn’t recognize Him, but, once they did in the breaking of the bread, their hearts were filled with joy and they hurried to tell the Eleven of their encounter with Him.

Collectively, these passages reminded me that Jesus is always with me even though I may not always recognize Him or feel His presence. He is with me in the people He has placed in my life and in my life’s circumstances. They reminded me of the joy I feel when I do feel Him near me. They reminded me that even in difficult times when the world pulls my attention away from Him, He is still there going before me. And, they reminded me that I ought not to keep quiet but to hurry and tell others about Him.

And, then, I thought about the bird again. Was God wanting to catch my attention with one of His truly beautiful creations as a sign to let me know of His presence? Whether it was His intention or not, it certainly worked.

Could that crazy cardinal have actually been a messenger sent to draw me away from the hum-drum of isolation so that I could refocus on His love for me? Possibly. If so, He succeeded by reminding me of the grace that He gives me each and every day. That His grace is here with me in the love I share with my wife and our support for each other during these unusual times. It was there in the video calls with all four daughters and grandchildren today. It was there last night in the good food, friendship and conversation we shared among a few friends as we “risked” getting together for the first time in over a month.

But, mostly, that silly, persistent, cardinal, who wouldn’t give up pecking at my window, reminded me to never give up on God’s love for me, and never give up loving Him in return.

“Good and gracious God, thank you for sending your fine feathered creation to draw my attention back to You. Even though I may lose sight of You from time to time, thank You for never leaving my side. Lord, thank You for Your angels who watch over me. And, I pray that the souls of all the faithful departed, through Your mercy, rest in peace. Amen.”

(The Cardinal at My Window was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Speak Boldly Like Peter

Tags

, , , , , ,

Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, John La Farge, 1880, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Ever since Easter the first readings of daily Scripture have been from the Acts of the Apostles and have been accounts of Peter speaking and healing in the name of Jesus. In healing the man who had been crippled from birth, he and John astonished the other Jews who were going into the temple for their three o’clock prayer (Acts 3:1-10).

Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8), Peter went on to speak with great confidence to the people of Jerusalem and converted thousands in the process. In spite of being arrested by the Sanhedrin, thrown in jail, and almost sentenced to death by them, he continued to speak boldly (Acts 4:13, 29, 31) and bear witness with great power to Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:33).

Certainly, seeing Jesus twice since His death; having Jesus explain the purpose of His crucifixion (Lk 24:45-47); and committing to follow Jesus by being reminded that he denied Him three times (Jn 21:15-17), brought about Peter’s complete conversion. His heart was fully convicted and his will completely committed to obeying the Lord to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15). Any fear he and the Apostles might have had was replaced with fortitude to speak boldly, and to rejoice when they were persecuted and suffered dishonor for the sake of the name [of Jesus]. (Acts 5:41).

In addition to this recounting in the Acts of the Apostles, we have also, this week, been reading about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-21), a Pharisee and the teacher of Israel (Jn 3:10). Nicodemus came to Jesus one night after hearing about Him driving the money-changers out of the temple, and, more than likely, about His miracle at Cana. He questioned Jesus about His miracles, or signs, because he knew that they could only come from God. Jesus explains that the only way to enter the kingdom of God is to be born again by being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus doesn’t understand the concept of being born again and questions, “How can this happen?

As many times as I’ve read this I always saw Nicodemus’ questioning as trying to catch Jesus in blasphemy so that He could be imprisoned. I had a vision of the learned Nicodemus on an ego trip, and, when the conversation was over, him walking away shaking his head in frustration and disbelief. But, I’m wondering if I was wrong. Maybe Nicodemus actually believed Jesus was who He said He was but his questions were simply an attempt to better understand.

At the end of the Gospel on Good Friday, we read in Jn 19:39 that, Nicodemus, the one who had first come to Him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds, and, along with Joseph of Arimathea, helped bury Jesus’ body. Why would he do that? A hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe must have been worth a significant sum. A hundred pounds seems to be a measure that might be fit for a King. Could Nicodemus have come, through faith, to accept Jesus as the Messiah?

Nicodemus appears one other time in Scripture, in Jn 7:50. The Pharisees had sent officers to arrest Jesus but they came back empty handed because they, too, were amazed at the way He taught. They were reprimanded and accused of being deceived by Jesus like they perceived the crowds had been. Nicodemus stepped up and asked his fellow Pharisees, “Does our law condemn a person before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”, to which he is ridiculed for forgetting that “no prophet arises from Galilee.” Could Nicodemus have been making an attempt to stand up for Jesus and protect Him?

I’m not a theologian and I haven’t consulted one on this subject. But, for the moment, I am going to assume that Nicodemus secretly believed, like Joseph of Arimathea, that Jesus was the Messiah. Maybe after that first encounter with Jesus and seeing the miracles He subsequently performed, Nicodemus came to believe that He was the Son of God. And, I’m going to suppose that he followed the doings of the Apostles after the resurrection and the Lord’s ascension and heard their witnesses. If that were true, then what would Nicodemus have said if he’d been asked if he believed in Jesus?

I think the fact that Nicodemus is never again mentioned in the New Testament indicates that he either never gave anyone a reason to ask him, or, if they did, he denied his belief. Admitting his belief would have been at odds with the rest of the Pharisees and certainly the Sanhedrin. He was a leader, a prominent figure in Jerusalem, and taking sides with Jesus and his rag-tag band of followers would have turned their entire law upside down. Believing in Jesus would have been tantamount to blasphemy and could have meant his death. He was, I’m sure, a wealthy man and, at a minimum, he would have forfeited many material possessions besides just his status and reputation.

Thus, as I pondered this all week, I concluded that if he did come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, he kept it to himself. Whereas Peter, who had nothing to lose but his life, spoke boldly with courageous faith, Nicodemus could never even whisper a word for fear of losing the things of this world which he so esteemed.

And, therein lies the question I have to ask myself – at the risk of losing everything, would I be Peter and boldly proclaim Christ as my Savior and rejoice in the prospect of persecution, or would I be Nicodemus and, out of fear, remain silent?

What would you do?

“Lord Jesus, thank You for Your love. You know I love You. I pray that my love for You will always grow stronger. I pray that if the day ever comes that I may have to choose between life and my faith in You, that I have, like Peter, the courage to choose You. But, I know I’m weak, so mostly I pray that I am never put to that test. Amen.”

(Speak Boldly Like Peter was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad!

Tags

, , , , ,

Today is a 2-fer day: two reflections from my prayer and meditation on today’s Scripture.

(A 100-word reflection on Luke 24:13-35 – Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus)

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606

The two disciples with whom Jesus spent the day walking to Emmaus did not at first recognize Him. But, at day’s end, Jesus sat with them “at table, took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight.” (Lk24:30-31)

They thought Jesus had left them. But, He was still there….present in the bread that he’d just consecrated.

I can’t see Him, either. But, He’s still there in the Holy Eucharist which I will soon be able to receive again.


(A 100-word reflection on Ps 118:24)

Before my meditation this morning I looked out my window as the sun was rising in a cloudless bright blue sky over my frosted lawn. A red-breasted robin, perched on a branch of a blooming pink dogwood tree, was checking me out just inches from one window. A few feet outside another window were five goldfinches clinging to my bird feeder having their breakfast.

Then, I read the same verse from Psalms that’s been in the Liturgy every day this week: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!”

I can do that!

“Good and gracious Lord, thank You for the beauty that You bring to each and every day. Help me to always see the beauty of Your handiwork, even in the cloudy and dreary days. And, Lord, may I never fail to rejoice and be glad when I receive Your Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist. Amen.”

(Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.