On the Feast of the Annunciation: When a Woman Says “YES”

Annunciation Angel

It’s hard to imagine what it was like for Mary. She was young and newly betrothed when she said “yes” to becoming the virgin mother of our Lord. Though she had an immaculate soul and had consecrated her life to God, it didn’t mean she could see into the future, anymore than any mom can know what’s in store for her. When the angel came to announce God’s plan, Mary could have said, “no.” She was probably overwhelmed and scared. Yet, in saying “yes” to life and “yes” to God, she became the perfect model of faith.

But we know that “yes” isn’t always easy.

I remember when I was first married. I thought of my artwork as my “babies” and I wasn’t at all sure about having children. Then God, who has a way of taking self-centered people and turning their reality upside down, stepped in. He made me into a parent!  There is no time to be centered on yourself when you have young ones who need you desperately!

Still we are never really prepared for the full impact of this amazing transformation, are we? When I said “yes” to motherhood, I had no idea what I was in for. I hadn’t even done much babysitting as a young person. Sometimes I dreamed, “if only I could see into the future…”

Did I really say “yes” to coping with a toddler tantrum at McDonald’s? I had to go into the ball pit when my son refused to leave. Did I really say “yes” to running to the Emergency Room with a screaming child? We had to wait for hours before knowing everything would be OK. Did I really say “yes” to the late night talk on how to cope with a bully? It seemed like I couldn’t protect my kids when I desperately wanted to. Did I really say “yes” to having two teenagers in the house? Yikks!

There is nothing that compares with the challenges of parenting. Yet all the trials and tribulations, all of the anxieties and fears, are balanced by the beauty of “family.” To love fully that laughing little one who just mastered the art of walking;  to be devoted completely to those babies who look at you with such absolute trust; and to feel your heart bursting when you overhear your 8-year-old telling a classmate “fasting is easy because Jesus fasted a lot longer. And Jesus died for us. So yeah, fasting is easy.”

Mary taught us to say “yes” although we can’t see beyond the moment. Then Mary, Joseph and Jesus created the mold for family. To say “yes” means to love unconditionally. To say “yes” means to commit ourselves to creating a Rock solid foundation for our children. Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple. They trained Him in faith.  They shared all they knew about God.

To say “yes” means to work in partnership with a spouse, facing the good times and the bad times together. Mary and Joseph had to flee their homeland with their new infant. Still they created a home wherever they were.

To say “yes” means to trust in that foundation as the children step out into the world. Jesus left home to face false accusations, humiliation and torture; and still Mary trusted God. She was there at Jesus’ side to offer a love that went beyond the grave.

With the help of our heavenly Mother’s intercession, we too can say “yes” to life without reservation. Parenting is a wonderful opportunity to move closer to heaven!

So on this feast of the Annunciation, we meditate on the importance of saying, “Yes.” Let us pray that all young women, who feel the stirrings of life inside the womb, will say “yes”–trusting in God and guided by the Holy Family.

–Judith Costello, MA, OCDS, is a professional freelance writer and artist. She writes four regular columns and is published in regional and national magazines.

Teaching Your Children About St. Joseph the Worker and Husband

Saint Joseph

St. Joseph, Worker and Husband –Solemnity March 19

During the month of March we celebrate the life of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers and patron saint of a happy death. As I was thinking about this I overheard a teenager say, “Work? I’m allergic to it!”

The value of “work” has seen a bit of a decline in our modern era. To remedy that voice of “the easy way out” and to honor St. Joseph, we’d like to reclaim the value of hard work.

Here are the top ten reasons to ask St. Joseph for help in teaching our children the value of work:

  1. Kids need to work…it tires them out; it releases their hyper energy; it gives them a sense of purpose. I remember the day we were going to be getting a donkey…our two kids and their two friends set out to clean the old barn on our property. The combined ages of these four kids wasn’t more than 40, but they spent six hours steadily shoveling and hauling manure! There we were with masks over our faces, working really hard. There wasn’t a complaint in the bunch because they could envision a great purpose…to make a comfortable home for the creature that carries a cross on its back! (Donkeys have a significant role in the Bible and they really do have a brown cross marking on the skin!)
  2. Sloth is another word for laziness. And it is one of the seven deadly sins. Sloth is what killed the Roman Empire. So, in order not to commit a cardinal sin—WORK!
  3. Work builds civilizations. Can you imagine the pioneers heading out west saying, “We’ll build stores and schools some other time. We’ll do it tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow.” Nothing would get done. The west would still be without cities.
  4. Elbow grease works best! Have you ever noticed that a bit of old-fashioned effort has more value, in terms of results, than the latest, high-priced cleaning fad?
  5. Exhaustion leads to a good night’s sleep. As we get older we realize how nice it is to experience a night of deep, uninterrupted sleep! And sleep comes to those who are “spent” at the end of the day.
  6. Hard work builds character. All the poets praise the value of work as a healthy challenge. (Poets work too!) It teaches perseverance. “”My son, beware of ‘good enough.’ It isn’t made of sterling stuff,” wrote the poet Edgar A. Guest in the early 1900s.
  7. Nothing beats a sense of accomplishment! To set a goal and work toward achieving it is a great feeling. It does wonders for a sense of identity.
  8. If not work, then what? What happens to those who don’t work? Listen to the oldie song “Richard Cory” by Simon & Garfunkel. (Originally written as a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson in 1897.) Everyone envied the rich man who didn’t have to do any work, until the rich man committed suicide because his life was without meaning. Work gives purpose.
  9. St. Joseph is a model for us. We don’t know much about him except that St. Joseph worked as a carpenter and was faithful to God. But imagine what it meant to flee from the wrath of King Herod who wanted to kill the newborn Jesus? Joseph had to take his young family to Egypt where he had no connections, no home and probably no tools either. That must been extremely difficult to start a new business, to find customers and to raise the money for basic supplies. Yet he did it. And apparently there were no complaints.
  10. We were made in the image of God, the Creator (read “Worker.”) We honor God by working hard. And a life of good effort will lead to a peaceful death. St. Joseph will be on hand to guide faithful workers into the Kingdom.

So, in honor of St. Joseph’s Solemnity Day on March 19, why not read this list to your children? Let’s celebrate work!

–Judith Costello. Judith is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite (OCDS).

The Spirit of the Irish

Ireland twinkles like a green jewel—it is truly an Emerald Isle! I went there right out of college to explore my roots. And I had to hold my breathe looking out at the beauty of that landscape. I also couldn’t help but love the leprechaun-like character of the people. In Ireland, every chance meeting is an opportunity to share a grand story!

So, as someone of Irish ancestry, this is my story and I’m sticking to it!

St. Patrick died on March 17 sometime during the 5th century. Yet death is not a fear-ridden topic for true believers. Ever since that time Patrick’s gem-quality life has been shared to lift souls above the humdrum!

As a lad Patrick was taken captive from his home in Britain and forced into slavery on the Emerald Isle. During his time as a pig herder, the boy meditated on the quiet hillsides. He began to experience the presence of God. During a vision, Patrick was shown how to escape and told to return to England. There he became a priest and then a bishop. Throughout his education, the young man felt a longing to return to the Emerald Isle that held the key to his original conversion.

When he landed on the shores of County Leinster, a chieftain challenged the man in robes. He told Patrick to bow before the pagan Druids or be killed. Instead, the new bishop held up his hand, and the chieftain couldn’t move until he became the one begging to learn about the religion of Jesus Christ!

Patrick traveled around Ireland for 40 years and made thousands of converts. He healed the sick and helped the poor, until he had instilled a deep faith that seems to permeate the very hills of the land. Ancient stories say that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. This was actually a metaphor for driving out the worship of idols. In Ireland, Patrick is a figure considered to be comparable to Moses who could wield his staff to call attention to the Lord’s power!

To teach the pagans about the Trinity, Patrick held up the common plant of the land…the shamrock. The three parts of the plant indicate the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When the Irish find a four-leaf clover they say the fourth leaf is the spirit of “Paddy” now looking down from heaven to help us out here!

When my ancestors were among the thousands who fled the island during the Potato Famine, at the beginning of the twentieth century, they brought with them their love for the slave who became the bishop. Patrick was the name given to my oldest brother who will soon be wearing a huge green hat while teaching Numbers Theory on March 17.

In my family we are required to wear green on March 17 and not just any ordinary green either. It has to be something that stands out and says, “We love St. Patrick.”

–Judith Costello. Judith is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite (OCDS).

Fish Fridays During Lent

Fish Friday during Lent

My daughter, Brigit, calls herself a true “carnivore.” She’d rather eat meat than candy. She’d rather eat good red meat than anything else. So “Fish Fridays” are hard for her and for many of her friends. Last year, at this time, she begrudgingly went along when it was time to go to the grocery store on that first Thursday in Lent. We needed to stock up on her least favorite food item.

Once we arrived, though, a funny thing happened. All our Catholic friends were there in the aisles with the cans of tuna and freezer section where fish sticks are stocked! It was like a Catholic convention. And all fish items were on sale.

“Hey, what are you fixing for dinner tomorrow—tuna noodle casserole?” I asked a mother who has three boys. “Oh, really? You’re making meatless spaghetti. No fish? Good idea.”

No Red Meat During Lent?!

Meanwhile the kids were having a reunion of their own. One of Brigit’s friends was saying, “I hate Fish Fridays. I can’t possibly survive another year of this!!” Brigit started to agree. After all, she had already told me she can’t survive longer than five hours without roast, steak, hamburger or corned beef.

But instead I overheard her saying,

“Jesus went without food for forty days to prepare himself to die for us. I guess it’s a small thing to give up meat.”

After that, she joined me picking out salmon and tuna, while waving and chatting with everyone who was there for the same reason. The grocery store had turned into our Church Extension Office! It was a joyful gathering!

Around the dinner table last night we talked about the early Christians who displayed the fish as a symbol designating safe Christian homes.

In the years when the early Church was widely persecuted, the fish was an important symbol for people who didn’t read or write. According to tradition, if two people met on the road and wondered if it was safe to talk about Jesus, one of the two would draw an arc in the dirt. If the other person finished the arc creating a fish symbol, both people knew, “This is someone I can trust. This is a Christian.”

It’s a rich symbol with layers of meaning. I asked my son, “Did you know the word for fish in Greek is Ichthus? And the Greek letters for this word are an acronym for: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior?” Our faith, all in one little drawing. Pretty interesting, huh?

Most of the Apostles were fishermen. Jesus fed the 5000 with a miraculous multiplication of fish and bread. Then Jesus told the Apostles he would make them “fishers of men.” The fish represents life in the spirit; it signifies the sustenance that comes from Jesus.

So our family is now making stuffed felt fish to hang in our windows. They are filled with great smelling potpourri. For us, this is our way of saying, “Fish Fridays are sweet. Because they give us an opportunity to tell stories about the wondrous gift of life with Jesus.”

Won’t you join us in displaying and celebrating the fish symbol?

And don’t forget the Church Extension Office…it’s coming soon to a grocery store near you!!

Lent is Almost Here — How will You Fast?

Ash on forehead

Lent is Almost HereI was sure we were low on flour. And I don’t like going to the cupboard to bake something—which is usually at the last minute because Peter says, “I have to bring a snack to class tonight”—only to find there’s not enough flour for the recipe. So I brought home a ten-pound sack of high-quality pastry flour with my groceries. But when I went to pour it into the canister, low and behold, it was already full to the top. There was no room to add the new and special ingredient.

Fasting is kind of like that flour canister. If the container of our soul is already full, there is no room for anything else.

Thus fasting is the practice of “emptying.” You have to empty out what’s in there, before there is room for a fresh start. To give Jesus a clean room to live in our lives, we have to empty the heart that is overflowing with affection for the world!

And the world certainly has a hold of most of us. We say we are too busy for church, too busy to pray, too tired to go to Confession, too distracted to read Lenten material. But we do “love” our chocolate, our TV shows, our dance classes, etc. Work, family, chores and recreation fill up our days.  Thus we have no room for God. The canister is full.

Lent is about returning to the basics. We have time, IF we make time. We have love to give to God, IF we release our attachments to worldly loves. A teacher from New Jersey writes that this Lent,

“I will give up listening to the radio or music in the car, although I love it. This will give me time to pray the Rosary or say a Divine Mercy Chaplet.”

She says she will also give up between meal snacks and do a complete fast on Wednesday and Friday as a sacrifice in honor of special prayer intentions.

A retired teacher from Iowa says she gives up sweets during Lent. This is easy to do when she looks instead for the “sweetness” that comes from loving God!

Giving up worldly things is not a hardship, when it is viewed as giving up something of lesser value for something that has so much greater value! When we understand Lent as a process of joining with Jesus in his forty days in the desert, we realize we are emptying ourselves of frivolous attachments. Then we can be filled up by God! That is the ultimate goal of life!

Let’s begin now! Fasting is not hard when it is viewed in the context of what we gain. Imagine feeling the peace that comes when we give our worries to God. Remember the sense of surety that comes when we place our deepest desires in the hands of Jesus.

Prayer and fasting work together.

One of my 3rd grade Sunday School students said she prayed because she was worried about a test and she promised not to eat candy that day as her “offering.” The result of her passionate prayer was that the test seemed easier and she got a good grade!

When we empty the heart of worldly cravings, we create a private place for prayer. Then, we have prepared our souls for Jesus who willing gave up his very life, out of love for us.

Surely, we can empty our souls, so we can be filled up by Him!

Our Lady of Lourdes and the Humble Saint

Our Lady of Lourdes in Grotto

Our Lady of LourdesWhen my son, Peter, was 14 we visited St. Bernadette’s Church in Albuquerque, NM. He reported feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and “presence” as he sat in the pew. His experience seems consistent with all the reports associated with Our Lady of Lourdes, and the young girl who saw her.

Bernadette was 14 when she saw the Lady on the hillside outside of Lourdes and she experienced a sense of peace and awe. Bernadette was a tiny girl, whose big hearts and great love, has inspired millions to seek help from Mary, the Immaculate Conception.

Since our family’s visit to the Church, which is also the US Shrine of St. Bernadette, we have felt a renewed devotion to Mary and also Bernadette, who endured ridicule and punishment, yet she continued to humbly describe “the lady in white.” She never backed off from what she knew to be true.

Our Lady of Lourdes in GrottoOur Lady told Bernadette she could find healing water on the spot where she was first seen. Obediently, Bernadette knelt and scooped up mud. The next day a spring flowed from that spot. Since that time hundreds of miracles have been reported by those who drink or are blessed with the water of Lourdes. Of those miracles, 67 have been authenticated by the Church.

Over the course of several visions, Our Lady of Lourdes called the modern world to a renewal of prayer and penance. The world is much in need of humility too.

As I write this I reflect on the story of the Wedding Feast of Cana. Mary noticed that the good wine was gone. She told the servants of the house to “Do whatever Jesus tells you,” because she trusted that her son could change the situation at any moment. In her appearances at Lourdes and elsewhere, Mary says the same thing to us. We are to trust in Jesus and surrender to him. Then miracles happen.

Miracles of healing, as well as miracles of peace in the midst of chaos, are gifts from the Creator. Similarly, when our loving Heavenly Mother returns to us in various places and times, and the saints give us guidance by their examples of endurance and love, we receive a heavenly embrace that should bring us to our knees.

We pray for our families that we will find time every day and throughout the day to say thank you, Lord and to be aware of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints. We pray that we be strengthened to resist the temptations of the world and be renewed in faith.

We ask for the help of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette to guide us in faith.

Advent – Straws for Jesus

4th Week of Advent

A long time ago a poor family prepared to celebrate Christmas. There was no money for a Christmas tree or special decorations because the father of the house was out of work. There wasn’t even enough money to pay the heat bills and it was a cold winter that year.

Still the mother said, “Children this cardboard box is like the manger where Jesus first laid his head. Jesus was actually in a worse situation than we are. No heat AND no warm bed to sleep in!  Let’s make this box a special place for Him. Did you know we can make this box glow with warmth if we fill it with our Good Deeds? Each of these pieces of paper will represent the good deeds you do. You can add one to the box every time you do something special.”

The children looked at the box. It WAS empty and it looked too cold for a baby. Their mother laid the plain brown box in on the floor in the living room with a stack of colored pieces of construction paper next to it.

That evening the little girl saw how hard her mom worked to make their supper. “I will do the dishes, Mom,” she said. The girl scrubbed all the plates and then dried her hands.  Her Mom said, “Darling, you can be the first one to put a straw in the manger for Baby Jesus!”

It was only one yellow strip of paper in a plain brown box. But already the box seemed warmer and softer.

The next day the oldest son offered to take care of his little sister after school. Normally he complained about it. He’d would much rather be outside with his friends. But this time he stayed inside and read a book to his sister. And that evening he put an orange straw in the box for Jesus.

As the days went on, the children thought of many kind things they could do. A neighbor needed help shoveling her driveway when it snowed. A teacher needed someone to file papers during lunch. Their dad was tired after looking for work so they brought him a cup of tea.

The basket in their living room grew full with colorful straws. It was no longer plain or brown. It overflowed with color.

One day the mother noticed something different about their house. She felt warm! The box in the living room seemed to radiate heat! The family sat around the box. No one spoke, but each person smiled.

On Christmas Eve, the father of the house was offered a job! Miracles were beginning to happen…
And early the next morning, in the box in their living room, a beautiful statue of Jesus magically appeared in the box in the family’s living room.

“You made such a comfortable, soft place for baby Jesus by all you did these past few weeks, children. Look at baby Jesus. He fits so snugly in his bed now!” said the mother.

“This is the best Christmas ever,” shouted the children. And so it was!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ACTIVITY: Will you bring straws to the manger for Jesus?

Every Christmas our family creates a Good Deed basket for baby Jesus. For the Good Deed basket we tear strips of paper and write our good deeds on them. We put them in the basket and on the night of Christmas Eve, a doll that looks like the baby Jesus, appears.

During this Advent season we can prepare our hearts for Jesus by doing acts of kindness, just as Jesus did during his life on earth. These good deeds bring comfort to the baby who was a born in a stable.

Here are some things for our children to think about during Advent:

  • Did I do chores without being asked?
  • Was I nice to someone who was sad or having a bad day?
  • Did I go to receive the Sacraments often enough?
  • Have I been extra nice to my siblings?
  • Was I helpful?
  • Have I done any thing nice in the last couple days?

These are all things that will earn the Good Deeds straws for Jesus.
Remember not to lie when you put in your Good Deeds. (God knows)

Have a GREAT AND HOLY Advent season!

The Best Thanksgiving Stuffing Ever! Prayer

Stuffing the turkey with prayer

I suspect there are thousands of ways to stuff a turkey. I’ve been looking for a new recipe since my kids aren’t fond of the celery, onion & butter variety that my mother made throughout my childhood. At our house, we’ve tried stuffing with apples, walnuts, bacon and oatmeal. We’ve tried different spices and different juices. We’ve tried crunchy stuffing and moist stuffing. Just the thought of all those possibilities makes my mouth water!

Yet, stuffing a turkey reminds me of prayer… (Amazingly, I can find an inspiration to pray in almost anything!) Here’s my maze-like thought pattern…

We humans tend to fill up our bodies and souls with too much of everything at this time of year…too much food, too much busy-ness, too much stress, too many on the list for presents. We even tell ourselves, too many times, not to do so much! When our bodies and spirits are full in these ways, we drag. Suddenly there is no inspiration. A sense of dreariness settles into our bones. And that defeats the whole purpose of Thanksgiving as well as the upcoming Advent season.

Instead this should be a time to renew our sense of community and spiritual communion. God is showering us with his gifts, even during these hard economic times. We receive blessings every day. But if we are too filled up with other things, we don’t see and we have no room for gratitude.

With my Sunday School students and at home, I like to make stuffed characters. And so we stuff this turkey with prayers!!!

Spiritual stuffing is the very best way to fill up.

Here’s how to create a praying turkey:

  • Copy and cut out two of these patterns (one with the image on it and a second sheet of blank paper cut to this shape.) Cut out a set for each family member.
  • Make it a family tradition to color these. The coloring can be especially fun if you use different colors of markers. Leave some areas white. Now go over the marker colors using a paintbrush and water. The colors mix together very nicely! Kids think it’s “magic.”
  • While the paper turkey is drying, write out prayers on slips of prayer. Include prayers of thanks, along with petitions for the upcoming year.
  • Use a stapler and go along the edges of each turkey (set of two) to join the front and back. Leave an opening so the turkey can be stuffed!
  • Fold and push the prayers inside to make the turkeys 3-D.
  • Go around the dinner table and talk about what you have prayed for with this talking turkey!
  • Add strings to the top of the turkeys and hang them as mobiles.
  • Open these turkeys next year to be reminded once again: God is good. He answers our prayers!

This is a new tradition using the very best of stuffing! May God bless your family. I am grateful for all my Catholic connections! My turkey is stuffed with gratitude.

Ps. 136: We give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever!

St. Martin of Tours and the War of Wars

The wind is howling and the temperature is dropping here in New Mexico. I just want to be inside, curled up with a cup of hot chocolate. Early in the winter season, I find myself longing for more sunshine. At this time of year in Germany and the Netherlands, the feast of St. Martin of Tours is celebrated with a lantern procession–an image of bringing light into the darkness.

St. Martin was a Roman soldier during the days of the Church Fathers. He is associated with light because he sought to spread truth and fight against heresy. He is most celebrated for his Christ-like generosity.

St. Martin was disowned by his pagan parents when he became a Christian. So he had very few material possessions, except a thick woolen cloak that soldiers wore. When he saw a beggar who was freezing in the fierce winds sweeping across Gaul, Martin was moved with pity. He pulled off his cloak and cut it in two, giving half to the beggar. That night he had a vision of Jesus wearing that red cloak and calling on Martin to finish the process of Christian initiation. He immediately set out to be baptized and to spread a message of charity and truth.

St. Martin’s feast day falls on Veteran’s Day which seems appropriate since he was a soldier. Veteran’s Day was created originally to commemorate the armistice which ended the hostilities of World War I. That war was to be “the war to end all war.” President Woodrow Wilson wrote: “Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive…and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed…the President of the United States is…inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches…with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

We know now that the “war to end all wars” was a dream and a glorious hope. Wars continue as a result of the sin and evil in our world. Veterans Day is a time to celebrate the heroes who risk their lives, again and again, to protect and defend our country.

In the fourth century, the era of St. Ambrose, St. Ephraim, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine and the Nicene Council, there were persecutions, fear and false doctrines. There was a need for constant clarification of truth. That same spiritual battle has not ended. Christians are still persecuted and we live in a dark world of immorality, self aggrandizement and false gods. We are in need of Light.

St. Martin became a warrior against heresy. As with all spiritual battles, it began with himself. He fought against selfishness. He fought against pride. He fought to stay true to the Gospel.

St. Martin was trained to fight on behalf of an earthly king. But he went on to fight for the King of Kings and his battle reminds us to remain vigilant and to welcome the Light of truth that comes to us in our faith.

Let’s ask God to bless our Church with the light of wisdom and charity. And may God bless our country with an appreciation for our veterans and with a return to Christian values. In God we trust!

Halloween for the Good Guys and Gals!

Who are Your Heroes?

Kids love to dress up in order to test out a different persona.  Do we need to deny them this once-a-year community opportunity, because Halloween has become a time of personifying darkness?

Historically, Halloween is connected with pagan harvest festivals and it is now claimed by witches. But the word itself belongs to the “good guys.” It is the Eve of All Saints Day. On this series of days–All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day–we have a chance to bring light into the darkness of our world.

This time of festivities can and should be re-claimed as an opportunity to embrace our heroes!

I tell my children this every year and ask them to identify saints, literary figures or historical characters. They can impersonate the good guys who overcome the darkness. This gives them the opportunity to research about virtuous people who are worthy of our attempts to “become like them.”

When my kids were attending the local public elementary school, I went to school to help out with the Halloween parties…dressed as a saint! I remember one year, I was hurrying down the hall, dressed in a black robe and nun’s veil. I was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who died in 1690. She received the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A teacher called me to a halt.

I stopped in my tracks. Was she going to tell me I couldn’t come to school as a religious figure? Was I not welcome at this secular institution, dressed this way?

She said, “You remind me of my childhood. The nuns taught me all through high school back in North Dakota. Thanks for bringing back that memory.”  I was so relieved!

As I proceeded to the classroom, other staff members nodded in my direction. Some seemed confused about whether they should address me as “Sister” or whether they should laugh that I was in such a costume. I didn’t care. I was on a mission to tell kids, “Be a hero. Don’t follow the crowd.”

Kids who knew me, because I teach Sunday School (religious formation), acted guilty when they saw me coming. Good. I was disappointed to see some of them dressed as blood dripping death-like figures. But I was glad to see there were angels too.

The desire to dress up and explore a different way of being is strong in us. What if we could truly be someone else for a short time? How would that feel? I’d have to say—when I was Sr. Margaret Mary for a day, I felt more courageous than otherwise!

When Brigit was in third grade she dressed up as Barbara Woodhouse, who had a TV show back in the 1980s about “talking to animals.” Woodhouse grew up in the 1920s, riding on cows when she didn’t have horses. So Brigit wore an antique dress, an antique hat and brought along her stick horse. Needless-to-say she wasn’t a recognizable character and that made her a little nervous. But she had studied her character and was ready to give a little speech, “My name is Barbara Woodhouse and I talk to animals” she began.  It was a memorable experience.

When her brother Peter was in fourth grade, he went to school as King Arthur. The first Narnia movie was just about to be released at that time. So his costume also fit perfectly as King Peter. Subtly it was a way to call forth the C.S. Lewis parable of the lion, who represents Jesus, and the leader he appointed for his Church.

Halloween can be a time to evangelize. Let’s take this month to think about heroes! We can dispel the darkness with our light.

–Judith Costello. Judith is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite (OCDS).

Blessed Pope John Paul II – The Suffering Servant Pope

Oct. 22 is now the official feast day for Bl. John Paul in Rome and throughout Poland. Feast days for “Blesseds” are not universally inserted into the general calendar however. The date was chosen because it is the anniversary of John Paul’s inauguration as Pope in 1978.

The Suffering Servant

Pope Blessed John Paul II was a humble man. He did not seem to take credit for anything, but continued to push his deteriorating body, even though he had already written more and traveled more than any other Pope in history and he deserved a rest.

Our family began to love this saintly man in a special way beginning in July of 2010 because my son, Peter, was working on a history project. He chose to study Pope John Paul II. The project called for in-depth, college level research. Since Peter’s school doesn’t participate in this program called NHD, the research had to be done on Peter’s own time.

And so, as in any family, that meant he really did his research on OUR time! Around the dinner table he brought up Karol Wojtyla. On weekends we made research trips. All four members of our household tripped over Peter’s stacks of books at one time or another. When Peter was trying to contact a man in the Czech Republic we were all listening to the speakerphone conversation as Peter scribbled notes! Peter’s sister cut out photos of the Pope whenever she found them. Notes about Karol Wojtyla were scribbled in cryptic writing, on scraps of paper that hung out of Peter’s backpack and more were scattered throughout the living room.

Our family time was an immersion in information about a heroic figure from history. At the beginning, we thought of this as simply a worthy topic of study for Peter…After the project was finished, we all felt as if our lives were changed…as if we had shared the air with this holy figure!

Bl. John Paul II taught Peter courage. As the first ever Pope who came from a communist controlled country, John Paul knew what it was like to live under repression and fear. Still he stared down the USSR powerhouse that was slowly and steadily taking over Europe. He challenged the lack of freedom and the suppression of God-given human dignity under communist regimes. The Pope’s persevering voice for change was a beacon of hope for the world.

Peter’s thesis for his project was: the Pope’s prayerful support for freedom led to the largely nonviolent end of communism in Eastern Europe. He presented his project to secular, academic judges. Some were less than receptive; others were openly critical. But, for Peter, that didn’t matter. The point was to learn, grow in knowledge about a hero and accurately tell the Pope’s story.

So why did John Paul keep pushing himself even as Parkinson’s Disease ravaged his body? Perhaps it was because he was deeply prayerful. And deep prayer calls for an understanding of ourselves in relation to the Almighty Creator and Savior. So, in spite of the successes that came through his efforts in promoting human dignity and revitalizing the Church, Pope John Paul knew that God was still working through him. His prayerful attitude was, “God is all; I am nothing.”

John Paul was a servant of God who allowed his body, his words and his skills to be used for good. Just as the Blessed Mother was a servant, Pope John Paul allowed God to work through him, even when it meant that he showed the world his suffering. He didn’t back away from the window when his speech slurred and he drooled. Instead, he shined a light from the window of the Vatican.

And so, in Poland and in Rome they are officially celebrating the life and death of a saintly Pope on Oct. 22, the feast of Bl. John Paul’s inauguration as Pope in 1978. And around the world we remember.

Polish filmmakers have recently produced a new documentary called “John Paul II: I Kept Looking for You.”

Pictured here is my painting of the Pope. I pray that Blessed John Paul will intercede for those who are sick and suffering, so that another miracle will be credited to him soon! http://www.jp2ikeptlookingforyou.com/pressroom.html is the new documentary produced in Poland.

–Judith Costello. Judith is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite (OCDS).

Our Lady of the Rosary. The Quintessential Mother.

Mary Mother Rosary

Rosary Prayer of MaryOur mother in heaven is the quintessential mother…she wants to rescue us, her children from the darkness in our lives. And her special prayer—the rosary—is like a rope dangling down from heaven. In fact, Michelangelo painted it just that way! In his Last Judgment painting, two souls hold onto rosary beads. They are pulled into heaven by an angel!

Why is the rosary so special? It is condemned by Protestants for being repetitive and “worshipping Mary.” And some of us remember saying it on our knees every night as children, and wanting it to be over! “Mommy, my knees hurt. Are we done yet?”

Why is the Rosary truly a lifeline?

  • Repetition is used in many cultures. It helps take us out of the fast pace of our culture. When the rosary is said slowly, the process of fingering the beads and repeating the prayers, takes us into another realm—the realm of spirit.
  • We don’t “worship” Mary, but Jesus did give her to us as our spiritual mother (John 19:27). It is good to call on her and through these prayers, we focus on the significant events in salvation history. In reviewing the 20 Mysteries, we have a complete overview of the life of Jesus.
  • The image of a ladder, or a rope, reminds us that the spiritual life takes effort. We pull ourselves up, one step, or bead, at a time. And Mary, out Mother, lets us struggle while offering as much support as she can. All mothers know—as much as we would like to do it for them, our kids have to do it on their own….learning to walk, learning to sound out words and learning by mistakes.
  • The Biblical prayers of the rosary seem to be very special to our Mother. Just as I like it when my children create cards for me that express gratitude, Mary likes this prayer and responds.

During a naval battle near Lepanto in 1571, the soldiers who were defending Europe against Muslim invaders prayed the rosary. Although they were outnumbered, they were victorious and they gave credit for that important victory to the Blessed Mother. Since that time thousands of people have testified that they received help after praying the rosary.

In our diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, our bishops have held Rosary Rallies for the past 42 years. These events gather Catholics from miles around at a stadium. Young people represent the beads of the rosary. As the Hail Marys are said, the students step forward to place a flower in a large vase. It’s a beautiful, inspiring event that brings a feeling of being Home…safe, comforted, nurtured.

Home is where our spiritual Mother resides. Pray the rosary!

Angels As Every Day Helpers – The Biggest Angel Feast is September 29th

I always remember the feast day of the archangels because of the numbers: 9-29. My son Peter was born on 12-29, so I guess the symmetry of the numbers is a handy device for my memory.  But I didn’t really think about the importance of these angels until I met an exorcist.

Father Mottet passes out the “Prayer to St. Michael” wherever he goes. He says we need the help of this powerful angel, who cast Satan out of heaven, in order to fight big temptations. The necessity of angels as everyday helpers became clear when as I listened to Father Mottet speaking.

But, like many people, I still didn’t have any real sense of angels. With the busy-ness of life, I was missing a lot of spiritual things.  Not until we moved to a farm in the country did I slow down enough to notice a few things.

 

When I go out to do barnyard chores, I open the door gently. The early morning sun illumines thousands of dancing dust particles. I remember one time when my little girl spontaneously called out, “Look Mommy. Those are tiny angels!

If those particles are really angels, then we are totally surrounded by them! And what a pleasant thought that is.  Angels are God’s messengers and “clerks.” They have a really hard job because we humans are deaf to the spirit world. So the angels dance and push and try to get our attention.  And most of the time, we turn blind as well. Blind and deaf, stubborn and oblivious, we miss the good stuff…the blessings all around.

But as I open my eyes to notice the dust floating in the air, and open my ears to hearing the sounds of clucking chickens, I feel a deep sense of peace. It’s almost like bathing in light. There is order and beauty and rhythm to this world God created.  The horses whinny from the pasture. The clouds move across a vast sky. There are mountains on the horizon.

And a feather floats in the air as I pray!  I remember….

For the first seven years of my kids’ lives, whenever they needed a boost in confidence, I would sneak in their bedrooms late at night to leave a white feather at the end of the beds.  They would come running out to the kitchen in the morning, “Mommy, Mommy! The angels left a feather for me!”

“Oh how beautiful! What a special present it is! What do you think your angels were trying to say by leaving this?” I would ask. They collected quite a few of these treasures and grew strong in feeling they had help close at hand!

Let’s take time on Sept. 29 to remember both our Guardian Angels and the Big 3.

St. Michael is the powerhouse who helps guard against the onslaughts of the devil. The Angel Gabriel is the primary messenger in the Bible and we can ask him for life direction! And Angel Raphael’s name means “God has healed.” So the big three cover a lot of basic concerns!

One way we like to celebrate the angels is to make “angel food cake” or the opposite–devil’s food cake. We taste deviled eggs on this day. And we try to have a table decorated with white and feathers and angel sculptures!

–Judith Costello. Judith is the mother of two kids. She and her family live on a small farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Judith writes for national and regional magazines. She is a catechist, artist and a Secular Carmelite (OCDS).

(P.S.—The angels sometimes need help from parents. White feathers can be purchased at hobby and craft stores.)

This is the Prayer to St. Michael:
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Our Mother Carries Sorrow Away

Our Lady of Sorrows

My friend was shaking when she told me her story: “We got the call in the early morning. My son was on his way to work, riding his motorcycle. He collided with a deer on the highway and skidded on a totally mangled bike for 30 feet. When I heard he was lying there, bloody and sprawled across the road, I felt like Our Lady of Sorrows! God was so merciful, and clearly Mary was there because my son walked away with very few injuries!”

We mothers know what it is like to have those moments when we stop breathing out of fear and pain. We suffer with and for our children. So many times my own children have been hurting and their hurts wound me…maybe even more than them. So when I think about Our Lady of Sorrows, I find comfort, help and guidance. Her pain must have been excruciating. Yet she never wavered in faith, hope or love.

The seven sorrows of Mary are these:

  1. When Jesus is a tiny baby, Simeon prophesizes that a sword will pierce his mother’s heart.
  2. Mary and Joseph must flee to Egypt, to avoid the persecution of Herod.
  3. Mary and Joseph discover that Jesus is missing! For three days they search for him in Jerusalem.
  4. Mary meets her bloodied son on the way to Calvary.
  5. She stands at the foot of the Cross in agony.
  6. Jesus is taken down from the Cross and placed in her arms.
  7. Her son is buried.

The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is Sept. 15, the day after the feast of the Holy Cross which is intimately united to her day. Traditionally the entire month of Sept. is dedicated to honoring Mary as the Sorrowful Mother.

There could be no greater load of suffering for a mother than Mary’s. But the fact that sorrow did not destroy her and that she did not run away from it is the message for us. She placed her trust in God. She stayed in the experience–watching, praying and trusting.

As a result of her courage she was rewarded, even while on earth, by seeing Jesus rise from the dead! Her joy in that truth must have been overflowing!

Mary is our heavenly mother ready to intercede for us whenever we are troubled. All we have to do is ask! So do you ask?

There was a time when I was a “strayed Catholic” and caused my mother quite a bit of grief. Yet my mother, whose name is Mary, never stopped praying for me. She never withheld love. I came back into the church as a result of her prayers. Then we decided to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. It was Mary, through Mary, who helped me truly return to my faith home!

Since that time I continue to be awestruck by the ways God answers the intercession of Mary. She is the Mother of Mothers, the Mother who is with us always.

It is helpful to remember, during this special month, that no matter what our sorrows may be, there is always hope and help. Mary, our mother is with us!

Honoring the Special Role of a Grandparent – The Ones Who Come Before Us

Grandparent

GrandparentMy daughter, Brigit, is sure her grandmother holds the magic key to baking. They spent a long afternoon in the kitchen recently, trying to create a winning cake for a contest at the county fair. I stood in the entryway, feeling a bit jealous. Brigit was doing everything Grandma asked, without any complaints. Amazing! “Now clean up each tool as you use it, honey,” she said and smiled as Brigit rushed to the sink. How I wished my daughter would follow through like that when we spent time in the kitchen!

Grandparents are like that

They have a special role, not just with grandchildren, but as a part of the community.

For us who are their grown children, they remind us that we are never too old to be corrected! And for our children, they are a curious mix of fragility and strength. On the one hand, my mom just went through cancer treatment and she needs a steadying arm when she walks down stairs. But, on the other hand, she jazzercises at age 86. Grandma knows that death could call at any time, but she has no fear of it.

She’s seen death over and over as she gradually outlives most of her friends. At the same time, her belief that this life is not the end becomes stronger.

In our culture, so obsessed with staying forever young, and trying to pretend death doesn’t exist, our senior citizens are an uncomfortable reminder to some folks. Wrinkles, walkers and oxygen tanks remind us that death will come for everyone. But our smiling, cheerful grandparents and great grandparents, also remind us that with age there is also freedom. After a certain age, there is not enough time to mince words or avoid the truth. We need this wisdom!

The Creator gave us families as a small microcosm of His love, discipline and wisdom. When we nurture the bond between our children and their ancestors, we are subtly helping them remember the One who came before all that comes before.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared that our country would have a national day honoring grandparents. He wrote:

“Just as a nation learns and is strengthened by its history, so a family learns and is strengthened by its understanding of preceding generations.”

This year, Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 10, 2017. On Grandparents Day, we also remember that life is fragile and those we love will not always be with us in a physical way. We must embrace them NOW and trust in a good God who watches over us and walks with us, even when things are confusing or hard.

As I peek in again at my mom and my daughter laughing in the kitchen, I smile. Grandma is just visiting. This time is short and precious. Years from now I’ll be the one saying to Brigit’s daughter, “Now clean up each tool as you use it, honey.”

This month we ask God to bless all our ancestors, our living grandparents and our special homeland—this United States!

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