Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That song may be referring to Christmastime, but for some of the Church faithful, that sentiment describes Lent.

 

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I actually look forward to Lent each year. The competitive side of me relishes a challenge, and, every year I challenge myself to either give something up for Lent or add something meaningful to my life during Lent.

 

One of the things that I committed to do during Lent a couple years ago, I’m still doing. I chose to attend Mass two days a week and started going to Mass on Wednesday mornings. I’ve grown to enjoy the smaller, more intimate Mass, where you know most of the people in church. Receiving the body and blood of Christ one extra time each week has been such a blessing, it’s kind of a spiritual booster shot half way through the week.

 

It would be hard to quit going to that Mass since I am now the lector on Wednesday mornings, I take up the gifts, and I’m the back-up rosary leader when the ladies who normally lead it aren’t able to do so. People are depending on me to be there.

 

As someone trying to be the best version of herself, Lent is the ideal time to commit to doing things that will make me a better person. Most years I try to give something up in the food area, such as sugar, desserts, snacking, etc. Then, I also try to find something pro-active to do that will make the season more meaningful for me.

 

Recently, I was introduced to the concept of fasting, from a spiritual perspective, which is something that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels.

 

Mark 9:25-29 And when Jesus saw the multitude running together, he threatened the unclean spirit, saying to him: Deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee, go out of him; and enter not any more into him. And crying out, and greatly tearing him, he went out of him, and he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead. But Jesus taking him by the hand, lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples secretly asked him: Why could not we cast him out? And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

 

(Note: for some reason that majority of Bible editions have omitted the word fasting from that text. It’s not easy to find the original passage.)

 

For the past year, I’ve been dabbling with fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, but hadn’t fully committed to it. Fasting can mean different things to different people, everything from only consuming water, or only bread and water, or just one large meal on a fast day. This year, for Lent, my husband and I chose to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by consuming only fresh fruits and vegetables on those days.

 

Seeing that I’m not much of a fruit person and probably don’t eat as many vegetables as I should on a daily basis, this will be a decent challenge for me. Generally, during Lent, I’m pretty faithful sticking to my commitments. That extra guilt factor keeps me on track!

 

This year, I’m also committing to doing a couple extra things to boost my faith and spiritual life. I will pray the rosary every day (for a particular special intention) and do one random act of kindness every day (thanks to my friend Marge Steinhage Fenelon, award-winning author of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena and Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace for the suggestion).

 

Day One, Ash Wednesday: so far so good. Keep me in your prayers that I can follow through with these commitments for the next six-and-a-half weeks! You’ll be in my prayers as well!

 

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A Miracle in My Life

Miracles are all around us if we are open to seeing them. Here’s something that happened in my life this past May.

Two years ago when Lent was approaching, I wanted to do something that required more effort on my part than just giving something up. So I decided to go to Mass one extra day per week. I chose to go on Wednesday mornings at 8:00 at our parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Mass is sparsely attended, at most maybe 20 people or so attend, and I noticed I was usually one of the youngest in the crowd.

After Mass is over each week, a handful of people stay and gather near each other to pray the rosary together. Three different older ladies are the leaders and if the primary leader isn’t available the next lady takes over and if she’s not there then the third in line takes charge.

Once Easter arrived in 2014, I continued to attend the weekly Mass. It felt comfortable, I was starting to get to know the other regulars, and it was a great way to disengage from my busy life and reconnect with my faith in a quiet atmosphere in the middle of the week. Since that time I was asked to be the lector (I read the first reading and the responsorial psalm) on Wednesdays, so now I have more of a commitment to be there as well.

This past spring we got the joyous news that both our daughter and our daughter-in-law were expecting and their babies were due two-and-a-half weeks apart, November 27 and December 15, respectively. My husband and I couldn’t have been any happier but we definitely had concerns because of some previous pregnancy issues.

One Wednesday last May, I was sitting in the pew behind the woman who was second in line to do the rosary, a lovely woman who was born in Europe and has a wonderful accent. Her part, as the leader, was to start the prayers represented by each bead in the rosary and we would join in. For the Hail Mary prayer, she would begin with, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and then the rest of us would join in, “Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

For some reason our leader that day was turned sideways in her seat and directly facing the statue of the Blessed Mother that is on the far right wall of the church. All the other ladies were following suit and I did as well so I was looking right at that statue as we prayed the rosary. Part way through one of the decades, as I was  following along, when we got to the part in the prayer, “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” I thought of my daughter and daughter-in-law and our prayers for them.

At that very moment, Mary looked right at me and she said, “Everything will turn out fine.”

I was stunned. I stopped reciting the prayer and looked at the other four or five ladies to see what their reaction was. I clearly heard the Blessed Mother speak out loud yet none of the other women seemed to have heard it. I was shaking and could hardly believe what I had witnessed yet I was overjoyed and felt this sense of peace come over me.

After the rosary was done, I went over to the statue and looked at is closer and once again it seemed inanimate. I lit a candle and thought about all the issues in our lives that we had been praying for and asked Mary for her intercession on our behalf, that she would offer prayers up for us to her son, Jesus. I took one last look at her as I left church that day and thanked her for praying for us.

Ever since that time when concerns come up in my life and our family’s life, I repeat the words that the Blessed Mother said to me in church that day, “Everything will turn out fine.” Having that constant reminder and reassurance has been such a calming factor in my life.

So, any time a worry comes to mind, I repeat what has now become my mantra, “Everything will turn out fine.” And, truthfully, it has. Life has been a series of beautiful experiences since then. I’ve grown more devoted to the Blessed Mother as I look to her as my role model in how I interact with my family and friends, how I run my living water mission, and how I live my life day in and day out.

Our beautiful granddaughter Katherine and handsome grandson Declan arrived safe and sound on Dec. 1 and Dec. 4! Our blessings are overflowing!

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My life is an open door

Lent is a busy time for a Catholic newspaper, all sorts of events to cover. So I’ve been to my share of retreats, conferences and talks over the last six weeks covering them for The Compass newspaper. It’s always a trick to record what is going on, get interviews done, take photos and yet still try to capture the essence of the event for myself. Many times it requires going home, writing the story, sending the story and pictures to my editor, and then sitting down to think about whatever gold nugget caught my attention during the event and pondering how I can implement that bit of wisdom into my life.

On March 14 I covered the Feminine Genius Conference held at St. Pius X Parish in Appleton. The speakers, including Rose Sullivan — executive director of the National Conference for Diocesan Vocation Directors and a USCCB consultant to the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Father Mark Toups — pastor of Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and who also works with the Institute for Priestly Formation,Teresa Tomeo — author, syndicated Catholic talk show host, and motivational speaker, and Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life who works in the Hope and Healing Mission, a work providing retreats and accompaniment to women who are suffering after abortion, were all outstanding.

Here’s the interesting thing, the one thing that I heard that has stuck with me since that day wasn’t some profound line from one of the keynote speeches. In fact, it wasn’t from any speech at all. It was actually from a conversation I had with Fr. Mark Toups after he finished his presentation. I was able to catch him in the lobby as people were milling around, looking at the various vendor booths set up for the day. Father and I were having a conversation about our busy lives between working, traveling and doing presentations (the bulk of my traveling and presenting is for my mission of sharing Kangen water) and balancing everything we both have going on.

As we were concluding our conversation, Fr. Mark asked if he could pray for me. I never turn down the opportunity to be prayed over, so of course I said, “Absolutely!” He started out the prayer saying, “I pray that the Lord opens the doors that need to be opened in your life.”I was really touched by that because that is really something I’ve been praying for as well, he certainly could read what was on my heart. If the prayer would have concluded right there, I would have been at peace with that. However, it didn’t end there and his finishing request was actually something I really need (even though I won’t always admit it).

“And may the Lord close the doors that need to be closed in your life.”

Wow! I was speechless. Boy oh boy, did I need to hear that.

There are so many opportunities that I could take advantage of in my life, with more coming my way every day, and each one could be so wonderful in its own right to pursue but I cannot continue to spread myself so thin or I won’t be doing any opportunity justice. This is something I really need to ponder in my life so I can discern between all the doors open before me. It’s somewhat mind blowing, that’s for sure.

I can’t thank Fr. Mark enough for his prayer over me. I have thought about that every day since and really consider it as things continue to come my way. It’s causing me to narrow my focus so I can be better at the things that are my absolute priorities right now. I will continue to write newspaper articles (but keep that number down to one article per week), I will work harder and smarter sharing the message of living water, and I will complete the manuscript for the book I’m writing. Now I just have to work on saying no to some people and opportunities so I can say yes to the things that matter to me the most right now in my life. Easier said than done, but I’m determined to stay the course!

Happy Easter everyone!