Feast of the Assumption of Mary, August 15th

Feast of the Assumption of Mary. August 15th.

A Holy Day of Obligation

Imagine being one of those in the early Church. You know Mary, the Mother of Our Lord because she goes from table to table at dinner; quietly ministering to everyone…she radiates such a deep strength that simply seeing her face inspires peace. It is quite humbling to realize that so many who loved Jesus ran away during the crucifixion, but she, who was the closest of all to Him, stayed and prayed. She remained strong through it all by trusting in God in the darkest hour.

Since the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, she has acted us as a mother and comforter to all the newcomers who flock to the young Church every day.

Now, she has died. Such grief surges throughout the community in Jerusalem and beyond. Her body is laid in a tomb…it’s a cave, really, up on the mountain and large stones cover the entrance. The next day, we must go to anoint her and pray.

But wonder of wonders–her body is gone!!! The cave is filled with a bright light. We rush to tell the others…our Blessed Mother has been taken up to Heaven. She is gone. There was no decay allowed. Her body and soul were lifted up by God!

According to the earliest of records, this is roughly the experience of the early Church, though the story was recorded later.

It is an ancient memory of Mary which became known as “The Assumption” and it is so important that it was identified as a Holy Day of Obligation by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Yet, why do we have to be “obligated” to attend Mass on such a day as this?  To me, it seems so beautiful and important that surely we will all “desire” to come and celebrate!

Just as Easter reminds us of the promise of everlasting life; the Assumption reminds us of God’s Eternal Love! Death is not to be feared.  Jesus gave us His Mother while He was on the cross. But that was not the end of her story. She was taken up to Heaven immediately after death to be crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. How wonderful is that?

This gives me hope and comfort especially now…During this summer, when other people have been enjoying sun, surf and travel, our Church community has been dealing with sudden deaths. Two people died unexpectedly in car accidents. Then our neighbor died after struggling for two years. Meanwhile, my husband was in and out of the hospital…very ill. An elderly neighbor and friend has left us her dog and moved to the “big city” so she would be closer to doctors and family.

It’s as if dark clouds have gathered over our little town out here on the eastern side of New Mexico’s big mountains.  And summer is disappearing way too fast. There is little time left for our family to experience some relief from stress.

In Peter Kreeft’s book about Heaven, he says we worry about “not enough time” for two reasons: 1) For those who are afraid of death–time is a reminder that our life on earth has an end point, so it seems that living has to be hurriedly squeezed into the few years we have. 2) But for those who celebrate the glory of the Resurrection and the Assumption, time is like packing for a big journey! “Soon and very soon,” the song says, “We are going to see the King.”

It’s a wonderful thought to know that our Mother is already there in heaven. The door is open and she’s standing there waiting. She is singing. There is light. Her arms are stretched out to welcome our friends who have died.

This year, let’s make the feast of The Assumption a “Desire Day”—A time to go to Mass joyfully so that we receive our Mother’s special blessing as we remember her entrance into immortality!

By Judith Costello

Back to School Lesson 1: Money Can’t Buy Me Love (or Happiness)

Back to School

Here in New Mexico it is officially Back-to-School time at every store.  New trinkets, “Design your Locker” sets, teacher bribery items and kid clothes that get sexier every year.  Stores will take any turning of the calendar as occasions to ramp up the “gimmey, gimmies, plea-z-z-” in our kids!

What’s a mother to do? Society tells our kids they won’t be happy unless they have the “latest.” I remember when one of those big-eyed, diabolical card games was the fad at the local public school. They were in every kid’s backpack and hiding in most of the kids’ desks. My son was in third grade and came home pleading, “Everyone has them Mom. Everyone!”  He had that look of desperation in his eyes. You know the look. It works on a mother’s heartstrings.

But I just couldn’t let him “buy” into the message that this fad was synonymous with happiness. So I cut some nice cardstock into the size of playing cards. I rounded the corners and brought out pencils and my very best set of beautiful permanent markers. “Make hero cards,” I told him. “Make up your own game!”

He took to that idea like a fish takes to water! For the most part, that was a turning point. He’s been a pretty independent thinker ever since!

But I can’t say it’s always that easy. The temptations are strong and pressures bombard our kids from every direction.  If a Catholic school existed near where we live, I would jump at the opportunity for my kids to attend!  I’ve been a substitute teacher in both Catholic and public schools and I can tell you—there is a difference!  But those schools, where Jesus can be openly discussed as our role model, are too far away for us.

So what’s a Catholic parent to do to be ready for Back-to-School time?  As far as all the tempting stuff at the stores goes, we parents need to stay strong so we send the right message. The first Back-to-School lesson is, “Money can’t buy me love.” I try to communicate this by posting notes on the bathroom mirrors: “My dearest children, The stuff on store shelves is a fad. It’s elaborate packaging. But when you open it up, there’s not much to it. The truth is that ‘stuff’ will not bring you happiness or love. It’s shallow. Let’s look elsewhere.”

We use the code word “packaging”—that means that the store stuff looks good on the outside but it has no real substance. We try to keep all eyes focused on the necessities. As an alternative, it’s so-o-o-o easy to be creative and original instead of spending money on fads. We decorate notebook and add to backpacks!

Prayer is absolutely necessary at this time. I try to imagine the kids being wrapped in Mary’s mantle. And our Catholic sacramentals are wonderful additions to a lunch box, a backpack or a chain for around the neck. We can send them with the kids wherever they go.

Sacramentals aren’t “charms.”  But they remind us that our real treasure is not earthly!  Our real treasure is the Love and Mercy of Jesus; the Motherly protection of the Blessed Mother and the Light-filled guidance of the Holy Spirit!  So I like medals and holy cards a lot!

I tell the kids “Be Creative. Be Original. Be a Trend-setter not a Trend-follower!”

That’s what honors God. And that’s how to be truly ready for school.

By Judith Costello

God Invites You to a Journey of Faith. The Pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage to Medugorje

Pilgrimage to Medugorje

By Judith Costello

When we think of “vacation” we often imagine heading for the beach or the mountains to relax and unwind, while the kids are pleasantly occupied with new outdoor distractions. But sometimes, what we really need is “soul liberation!”  Our souls, perhaps more than our bodies, need the opportunity to SOAR by experiencing holy places.

Why not consider a pilgrimage for you and / or the entire family?  Sound unusual?  Maybe, but who among us couldn’t use a little more faith and a lot more peace?

Think of a Pilgrimage as a vacation with purpose!  Imagine a travel experience that brings you;

:: Closer to God :: Answers to your questions
:: An occasion to release heartache & worries :: An opportunity to learn
:: Time for prayer – For others – For Healing :: Thanks
:: Up close with diverse cultures :: Change
:: Around the world to Holy Places :: Joy

I never thought much about this idea until 2006 when my mom asked me to go with her to Medjugorje, a little town where the Blessed Mother appeared to six children beginning in 1981. This tiny town in Bosnia Herzegovina is nestled in the mountains of an area that has been torn by war and ethnic / religious persecutions in the not-too-distant past.  Yet, we traveled safely and in comfort through a Catholic pilgrimage organization called 206Tours (www.206Tours.com). Our small group was led by a priest and many amazing things happened. In fact it was a life changing experience!

What characterized that pilgrimage for me, was the powerful sense of “peace” that lasted a long time.  Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you” and He hands out generous portions to people who travel for the purpose of refreshing their souls!

On our pilgrimage, I ended up missing my flight from Zurich to Washington, DC. I was routed through Chicago instead. Since I didn’t have a Chicago to Albuquerque ticket, I was a “problem” for the airlines. I remember walking quickly through the huge airport going from one counter to the other. I had a rosary in my hand and I was praying all the time.  Amazingly, doors opened. Grouchy, dismissive clerks changed their outlook. And through the turmoil of such lengthy travels, I felt at peace!

We visited a refugee camp, climbed a mountain, saw heroism demonstrated by people who helped strangers in need. We went to huge outdoor Masses where flags waved from every country in the world.  We saw streets crowded with teenagers carrying rosaries and candles. People were reverent all the time. Several sick people had come seeking miracles. I’m sure some happened.

Ever since that trip, I keep hearing about people who are taking trips to Lourdes, Fatima, Rome and the Holy Lands.  I would love to take a trip to Poland and walk in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who has had a big impact on our family.

As I looked through the various new pilgrimage offerings I saw so many trips worth taking.  For example, a 206Tours new pilgrimage in Rome that focuses on the lives of several “Blessed” faith heroes.  And they also offer a “walking tour” following The Way of St. James as he traveled in Spain. The concept of this famous trail is a part of an inspiring new movie called “The Way.”  There are tours to Ireland to walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick and a tour to Mexico to see where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared.

My soul feels a longing…

To be lifted up by the saints who surely stay close to guard and guide the holy places, is to feel like you’re gliding with an eagle above the concerns and turmoil of the world.  There is nothing more beautiful or more refreshing.

206 Tours Discount Coupon

206 Tours Discount Coupon

Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – We Receive Armor from Mary!

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Our Lady of Mt. CarmelWhen I started attending meetings of the Third Order of Discalced Carmelites, my husband teased,

“Are you going to make low-fat caramels again?”

His joke actually has some merit–there is truly a healthy sweetness associated with The Blessed Mother and her special love for the monks of Mount Carmel!

The beautiful mountain that rises up near the Mediterranean shoreline is named Carmel, meaning “beautiful garden.” It was on this mountain that the ancient prophet, Elijah (860 B.C.)  stood alone against the 450 who promoted an immoral life dedicated to a made-up god. Elijah alone was willing to say, “There is but one God and we must be faithful and humble before him.” Jezebel, the evil queen, sought the life of the prophet. Elijah must have thought, “This is my last chance to defend the faith.”

The prophet stood his ground and the false prophets were the ones who showed their foolishness. No matter how they danced, cried out or prostrated themselves nothing happened at their altar. Then in dramatic fashion, God responded to Elijah’s prayers and burned up the water-soaked altar with fire from heaven.

Mt. Carmel represents the abundance of God’s gifts to the faithful.

But we Carmelites look to the other story about Elijah as we trace our faith roots. After his victory over the false prophets, the evil queen was more determined than ever to have him killed. That made Elijah a bit discouraged. He had called forth a blazing miracle, but instead of turning hearts back to God, he was fleeing for his life. So he moped around and felt sorry for himself. But God continued to guide and lead him. The prophet was sent to yet another mountain in the region, Mt. Horeb. This time, he was told that God Himself would come calling.

And this time, Elijah didn’t need the dramatic power of storms and fires. Instead, he recognized God in a whisper.

God whispers to all of us. The test is: Are we listening?

Anyway, fast forward several hundred years. Monks continued to pray in the caves that dot the side of Mt. Carmel. But they were forced to leave as a result of a Saracen invasion. Settling in England, on July 16, 1251, a monk named Simon Stock prayed to the Blessed Mother that his Order would survive the struggles that swirled all around them. The Holy Mother appeared to Simon with a piece of rough woolen cloth representing the ancient habit of monks…the “yoke of Christ.” She promised protection and eternal rewards for all who would dedicate themselves to her and show this devotion by wearing the scapular.

And so we come to this year—2012.  The upcoming feast is dedicated to the Mother of the Scapular who challenges us to wear a scrap of cloth as a sign of devotion.

Scapular PendantThe scapular tends to cause problems when I wear it. It keeps moving in odd directions around my neck. It never stays in place. I like the challenge of it though. Every time I have to adjust it, I remember the abundant love of God who gave us a heavenly Mother.

The scapular is our armor in turbulent times…not bullet proof metal; but a soft thing shimmering in faith. Mary wants us to be always paying attention to the sweetness of Love.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s promise is this:

[quote]”Take this Scapular. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of
peace. Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”[/quote]

Summer Reading List for Catholic Children

Summer Reading List for Catholic Children
Summer Reading List for Catholic Children

Summer is a great time to read and expand your mind!

Summer Reading for Catholic Children

By Judith Costello and family

Kids need to flex their literacy muscles over the summer! Reading strengthens the mind and imagination. But the content of this material is important too. So we have developed a special list of Catholic books for children.

From the 12,000 books in our house (my husband, Jurgen, is a bibliophile!) I asked 13-year-old Brigit to pick out the most inspirational and best! She and her 16-year-ld brother, Peter, have read the following books over and over. They recommend them highly to other young people.

Some of these books are old classics. My kids ate up the Hardy Boys books when they received them at the right time…they are mysteries–so much better and more wholesome than the stuff kids see on TV.

Some of these authors–especially C.S. Lewis, Lois Lowry and Lloyd Alexander—are especially good at grabbing kids and taking them along on journeys of courage, perseverance and godly wisdom.

All Ages
The Tale of Three Trees Angela Elwell Hunt Awesome and inspirational. Get the illustrated version. This is a real keeper.
Kindergarten -1st Grade
Happy Birthday Moon Frank Asch The bear wants to give the moon a present. It’s a cute story about sharing! And God rewards a cheerful giver!
2nd Grade
Friendship with Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks to Children on their First Holy Communion Amy Wellborn This beautiful picture book helps kids connect to the Pope and prepare for their sacraments.
3rd Grade
The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner Beginning in 1924,  the first book is especially wonderful as 4 orphans make a home in an old boxcar.
The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith Josephine Nobisso A poor window says she will offer a Mass in exchange for a piece of bread. The baker and others laugh at her until they found out the true value of faith. Based on a true story!
4th-5th Grade
All – Nancy Drew and All Hardy Boys Mildred Benson / Edward Stratemeyer I read every single hardy boy’s I could get my hands on and I am now trying to read all the Nancy Drew’s as well. They are all really fun to read and keep the action moving!)
The Christy books Catherine Marshall This series tells of a Christian teacher who travels to a remote Appalachian village to work with poor families.
The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis The books are better than the movies.
Island of the Blue Dolphin Scott O’Dell Read anything by this author.
The Day No Pigs Would Die, A Part of the Sky Robert Newton Peck All of RNP’s  books are amazing. I couldn’t put these two down though..not until I was finished and then I wished for a third.–Brigit
The Trumpet of the Swan E.B. White
6th Grade
Esperanza Rising Pam Muñoz Ryan This is a book that never gets old. I read it about 5 times in the past two years. It’s a great read about faith and about being the best you can be. –Brigit
Hatchet Gary Paulsen Write about courage and character. These are authors to follow, especially good for boys.–Peter
The Black Cauldron Lloyd Alexander Write about courage and character. These are authors to follow, especially good for boys.–Peter
Number the Stars Lois Lowry This is another book I can’t read just once. I have read it a good six times. It’s an amazing book of friendship, hope, and courage. It has a lot of history but it’s a great novel too. –Brigit
Jacob Have I Loved Katherine Paterson
The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs Betty G. Birney This is a book about finding the miracles that are happening all around us. It led me to write my own book on the Wonders of Brigit!
Freedom Train Evelyn Coleman
7th Grade
The Giver Lois Lowry
Holes Louis Sachar
Where the Red Fern Grows Wilson Rawls
And recommended by Mom for grown-ups
Father Elijah Michael D. O’Brien’s …his book is a powerful apocalyptic novel. Michael is a Catholic artist and novelist.
Rediscover Catholicism Matthew Kelly Great faith renewal book by. It’s nonfiction but easy to read.


St. Peter and St. Paul Were SO Different

Why were Saint Peter & Saint Paul so Different?

Why did God make us all so darn different?! Wouldn’t it be easier if we were more alike? We tend to look at the world as if that were the reality anyway. If you have a problem with lying, you will always wonder if other people are lying. If you love strawberry shortcake you assume everyone loves shortcake. It’s hard to imagine that the thing you love could make someone else gag!

I started thinking about this because we have two very different children in our household and sometimes it’s hard to adjust parenting to accommodate differences. With one child you can say, “Go do this chore”; but with the second child you have to explain and motivate in order to accomplish the same goal. Sigh!

The two saints who are celebrated together on June 29th are like siblings who are very different, so they provide a wonderful example and some guidance. St. Paul and St. Peter were the leaders of the early Church, yet they were so very different–both in body and mind. St. Paul was short; he was not a great speaker and he had some health problems. On the other hand Peter was robust; he is portrayed as having a commanding physique. St. Paul was educated. He was an excellent writer and an intellectual. St. Peter on the other hand was neither well educated, nor a writer. He spoke from the heart and was a recognized leader.

But Peter and Paul had similarities too. They both made big mistakes. Their sins are blazoned across the pages of Sacred Scripture. Paul persecuted the early Church. He held the cloaks for those who were stoning St. Stephen to death and he approved of that action. He participated in efforts to round up Christians and put them in chains.

Before that St. Peter had denied Jesus even though he knew Jesus was the Lord…He denied Jesus not once, but three times. The sins of these two are described in great detail in order to remind us that even big sins can be forgiven. God is merciful. Sin need not be the end. It can be the launching point for a new life. In the teenage lingo that pervades at our house, St. Peter and St. Paul were “just plain stupid” sometimes. It must have been hard for other believers in the early Church to accept these two men who also had big egos to go with their sins. And yet, these two also give us an example of where redemption lies. They were both willing to let Jesus take over their lives. They gave up everything in order to follow Him. They trusted. They had faith. And most of all, they shared JOY. I find that an awesome concept…Here were these two powerful men who were beaten and persecuted. They were thrown in jails that were like dungeons. And yet, they were filled with joy. That’s redemption!

They were lifted up from the worldly tendency to be self absorbed and to feel like a victim. Instead, they offered up their suffering in order to move closer to heaven. Scripture tells us we do not prevail in life through our personal strength of will and body. Instead, when we are humbled, God lifts us up to great heights! So now when I think about the differences in children and the differences in people around me, I am reminded what my husband likes to say: “Learning to appreciate people who are different means learning to live with the fact of stupidity.

I have been stupid. You have too. We are all lowly sinners just trying to find our own way Home. And, with the grace of God we may get there together.” God made an infinite variety among humanity because all these differences reflect the great mystery that is God. He is Incomprehensible unless we open ourselves to Him. Maybe if we could bring every human being into harmony, all working together for holiness, it would be like fitting a puzzle together. We would find out we all have a place of belonging and we are all a part of the same picture. We are a part of the same mirror of the wonder of God. We are One Body, all members in the One Lord!

Although St. Peter didn’t see himself as a writer, here’s a pretty amazing quote from him: “You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection and mutual affection with love”. 2 Peter 1:5-8 God has implanted in us a soul-felt appreciation for Him as He reveals Himself in subtle ways through the people around us. And that is the special message of this feast of St. Peter and St. Paul!

The Law of the Gift

God the Father

Growing up, I was number three in a family of six children. I remember when my younger brother wanted to give a gift on the day I turned eight or nine. John was probably five at the time. He ran upstairs to his bedroom and came back with his favorite truck which he held out to me. I wasn’t much interested in trucks and he knew that. In his heart he knew he could give it to me because I would give it back to him! So he didn’t have to lose anything. It was a gesture that he thought would please everyone, but it wasn’t backed up with a willingness to really give up something precious. He was a little guy just learning about giving!

That memory came back to me when I read about Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s commencement speech about “The Law of the Gift.” At his alma mater, The Catholic University of America, the Cardinal talked about the definition of a real gift: it involves a sacrifice by one person for the betterment of another.

The ultimate gift giver is God, of course. He gave us everything, including his Son. And Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all—salvation—purchased for us by His suffering and death. That’s the Law of the Gift—it requires sacrifice. This next weekend is a celebration of such powerful gift giving.

On Friday we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This day is meant to remind us of the greatest gift…Jesus gave his life, his body, his suffering for us. Beginning in 1673, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had visions of Jesus. Her superiors mocked her when she shared what she had seen. But she continued to be patient and kind. Her vision of the Sacred Heart was a precursor of Divine Mercy. Jesus said to her, “Look at this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return. Through you, My Divine Heart wishes to spread its love everywhere on earth.”

Then on Saturday we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This celebration clearly corresponds to the Sacred Heart. The hearts of Mary and Jesus are intertwined through love, suffering and sacrifice. These two hearts established the Law of the Gift.

On Sunday, we celebrate Father’s Day. Although this day isn’t a liturgical feast, the Church recognizes and celebrates the love of fathers. The model comes to us from our heavenly Father—who personifies fatherhood as provider, protector and guide. I remember my grandfather who knew the Law of the Gift quite well. He had a young family during the days of the great Depression. It was hard for many men at that time because their ability to provide for their families was threatened. But my grandfather didn’t want anyone to worry. The workers at the railroad where he worked came together and agreed to share their jobs so no one would be laid off. The managers agreed!

Although his income was greatly reduced, my grandfather refused to be a sourpuss. Instead, he sang songs as he walked to the bus stop. He gathered broken toys from around the neighborhood and re-created them so he could give toys to his children and others in need. He kept joy and prayer alive in his house. It’s the Law of the Gift. We are called to sacrifice for others so that they can feel God’s abundant love. That’s what Father’s Day is all about. It is a time to appreciate the ones who have protected, provided and guided us through their examples of love and generosity.

Gift-giving is a kind of sacrifice that isn’t a struggle after all. When the gift is Love, it “keeps on giving” as it spreads from one family member to another and from there it goes out to the rest of the world!

–Judith Costello

Judith Costello 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

The Mystery of the Trinity

My husband is in the hospital with a serious medical condition. The doctors put him on some heavy duty drugs because of the pain. So he drifts in and out of being lucid. I thought it might help him to think of something besides his illness.

So I asked him, “How do I explain the Holy Trinity?”

“You want to know infinity?” he asked in confusion. But then came the clarity for which Jurgen is well known. He has read more books on theology than most theologians!

In his groggy state, he shared this: “People who focus too much on God the Father as Judge, end up with a god of no compassion, only law. Too much emphasis on God the Son as Love and you end up imagining a ‘feel good’ god who judges no one. Too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit as an inner guide and you end up imagining that all knowledge is yours. You mistake ‘self direction’ for something divine (which is the cardinal sin of pride.) God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is the fullness of Truth, Wisdom and Love. God is Three. Don’t forget!

I was thinking about Jurgen’s words as I drove home late from the hospital to be with the kids at home. By then I was groggy too. But I kept coming back to the image of a judge in heaven. Back in the time of the Old Testament, people believed that sickness was punishment for sins. Remember Job? The friends who came to “comfort” him, began instead to accuse: “What did you do to deserve this?” But, clearly, good people like Jurgen end up suffering. Perhaps the suffering comes so that those around will “do the right thing” by being of service.

Doing the “wrong” thing, by abdicating responsibility, would be a time of sin and potential judgment. Judgment and law are complex things so God gave us the church and sacraments to help us understand. I also know that the image of “God as love” has become very twisted by the modern world. Love is not pleasant self gratification. Especially not when you’re dealing with grave illness! The example of Jesus is that love definitely involves sacrifice! Pentecost Sunday was the day Jurgen went into the hospital so I’ve been thinking about our family’s need for Holy Spirit. I can understand the urgency in what Jurgen was saying about the Spirit…

There was a time in my younger years when I believed I didn’t need the Church. I though the Spirit would guide me if I listened in prayer. Who needs a Church? How wrong I was to delude myself! We are so good at rationalizing and justifying sin. Then we tell ourselves we are inspired…we are following some kind of divine guidance. That’s pretty scary.

I love that Jurgen, in his pain and confusion, could still call me to anchor our family in the fullness of God, the Trinity—to remember Law, Guidance and Love. The Trinity may seem hard to comprehend. But when we contemplate the vast mystery of the Divine, then the Trinity is a reflection of that vastness! I guess “infinity” really does go with Trinity!

–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).

Confirmation – Absorbed in His Presence


ConfirmationThis is the Alleluia Season! Fifty days after Easter we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is also considered the unofficial birthday of our Church. It is at this time that many parishes also celebrate Confirmation, as young people receive the Sacrament that brings them the special help of the Spirit. But it seems as so many times we miss the beauty and power of this holy season. So often we seem to just go through the motions of a spiritual life—showing up for Mass out of a sense of obligation rather than love. And we miss a lot of the rich offerings of the Spirit as a result.

It’s something like this: A big celebrity comes to town, but you haven’t heard the news. This celebrity is walking towards you, but you think he’s just some crazy because he has his hands held out. You don’t recognize the face, and you just walk on past in a hurry. You might even roughly push the celebrity aside. How rude it is to ignore this person. And how embarrassing it will be later when everyone hears what happened! What a missed opportunity it is!

We receive special graces when we say “hello” to the most amazing “celebrity” ever—the Holy Spirit. When we are truly paying attention, when we are truly prayerful, the Holy Spirit fills us with awareness and we are absorbed in awe at the closeness of God!

“Prayer,” said St. John Vianney, “is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.” We have the opportunity to be renewed and revitalized. How wonderful is that? But it takes practice to be aware enough to feel the great power of the Spirit’s presence. So here are a few thoughts on experiencing Power Prayer!

First, we close our eyes to block out the world. It is both a symbolic and practical way to move inward. In order for grace to work inside our souls, we withdraw from exterior things to become more awake to the interior.

Then, we can take a break from asking God to give us things. Instead, we seek silence and still the chattering mind. One way to do this is to come back again and again to the Holy Name—Jesus. See the letters in your mind. If you can, try to picture the face of Jesus. When we are at Mass, other people distract us. But it is still possible to close our eyes and pray interiorly, especially after receiving Communion.

The Mass is a communal prayer, giving us the opportunity to receive Jesus into our souls. The story goes that St. John Vianney sent altar servers to follow people who left the Church right after receiving the Eucharist. It was his way of saying, “Don’t forget. Don’t miss this opportunity to talk to listen to and visit with the King of Kings. Don’t be disrespectful.” And don’t miss out on the blessings of the Spirit who wants to guide us Home.

The REAL Treasure

Real Treasure

When you were a kid, didn’t you always love reading stories about the search for buried treasure? These very words conjure up images of a great adventure, facing dangers, following an ancient map, persevering against all odds…and then finally winning the great reward—a chest filled with wonders and beauty!

When I started this past year of teaching students in preparation for their First Communion, TREASURE HUNTING was what came to mind. In actuality, that is what happens as our children spend time in preparation for First Communion. They are on a grand journey to discover and understand where the greatest treasure can truly be found. And the process of learning and growing in understanding is no less thrilling than the search for the chest of wonders. Now, during this month of May, my students are ready to experience the Eucharist…they have prepared, they have journeyed and now they are about to discover the greatest jewel/gift/treasure they will ever know! The Eucharist is the priceless gift of Jesus Himself, coming into the very temple of our bodies! Yet there has been an element of hiding in this. Jesus disguises Himself as bread and wine.

Other people, who aren’t believers, can’t see it. They don’t understand. They haven’t followed “the map” of faith. So they will not be at the Feast. They won’t receive this hidden treasure.

Only for those who have prepared themselves, for those who have sought the greatest of treasure—for them, our Lord is waiting. He brings this treasure of Himself into our very souls! To instill this image, I have my students make boxes. And this is a good activity to do now for any who are preparing for First Communion!

Here’s what I suggest:

1) Kids can either make a box or use one that is ready-made. The box represents our souls…the temple, or tabernacle, that will live even if our bodies die.

2) On the outside, kids can use magazine pictures and school mementos or photos to show how the world sees them. “This is who I am on the outside.”

3) Ah, but on the inside!! That is different. On the inside, we make room for Jesus. The inside can be painted white or gold to symbolize purity and to make a special place for the King of Kings.

4) Symbols of saints and God can be added to the interior “walls.” A velvet cushion might be added.

5) This special box can be used to store Holy Cards and First Communion gifts and photos! It symbolizes the great treasure that comes when we bring Jesus into our lives in a special way!

The treasure image lingers. I hope my students will always remember where to find the Real Treasure.

We love you Jesus! Our King, Our Savior, Our hope. Our treasure!

–Judith Costello

Judith Costello 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

Mary, She’s Watching You…


The word “May” comes from the Latin word “Maia,” meaning “good mother.” The 5th month of the year is truly a celebration both for our Heavenly Mother and for motherhood itself! This entire month is dedicated to Mary, perhaps because this is the season for flowers.

Mary has many titles including the “Mystical Rose…Cause of our joy…Queen of families.” She is symbolized by the opening flower, since she opened her life most fully to bring Jesus into the world. In May, the Church asks us to crown her with flowers of appreciation. And then on Mother’s Day we thank our human mothers as well, by giving them flowers.

When my daughter, Brigit, was little she thought her mom could see everything she did! But as she grew, this helpful vision disappeared. Mom really didn’t have eyes everywhere. Yet, I reminded her that her Heavenly Mother has this amazing power! Mary sees whatever we do. And, like mothers everywhere, she wants us all to be on the Good Path, coming Home to Heaven…so her love is both supportive and correcting!

When I was—sadly—dealing with the issue of divorce, I worried most about the children. When they were away from me, visiting their dad in the “big city” I told them to look up at the sky every day. Although I wasn’t there to watch over them, our heavenly Mother would be there and she might even leave special messages in the sky! The sky, for us, represents Mary’s Mantle. As the Queen of Heaven, we imagine that Mary spreads her mantle across the daytime sky. And the clouds and colors above us have become messengers. We developed this “Sky Code: ”

  • When there are little fluff ball clouds, we are reminded of our craft supplies—those cotton balls we use for making little sheep pictures. This might be Mary’s reminder that today calls for creativity and flexibility! Do something different!
  • When the sky is heavy with dark clouds, the kind that make us feel cold and gloomy, Mary might be reminding us to seek out community and company. Being together with others brings a sense of warmth and reassurance.
  • When Mary’s heavenly mantle is clear and blue, everything seems fair and good. Mary must be feeling happy with us today!
  • And then, when the sky is sparkling with colors of pink, purple and yellow, we know Mary has spread over us something extra special. She reminds us that this is a day to honor God for His most amazing creation!
  • The Sky Code has been comforting and it is a reminder to PRAY. Brigit knew that I was looking up at the same sky. And Mary watches over both of us. Through Her, we talk to each other!

Being a mother is not an easy job. We aren’t always there when our little ones need us. And we don’t see how they are at school, or when they are away from home. Are they behaving the way they should? Are they safe from harm? Are they working hard and learning the right things? It is so reassuring to know that we, who are mothers, also have a Heavenly Mother who watches over us and guides us, as well as our children! We are never alone!

Thank you dear Mother of the Skies. Watch over us.

The Most Amazing Promise Ever Given

Most Amazing Promise

The mortician in our small town has seen a lot of things.

During Lent this year there have been a “larger than average” number of deaths in our Catholic community, he says. But to us, it’s not a number. It’s a lot of mourning.

Yet, the great promise of our faith is that these deaths are not the end. After a excruciating Passion and death, Jesus rose again on Easter. And Jesus promised us that death would no longer have the sting it once had–because it is not the end.

Those who have faith have the promise of everlasting life! It is a glorious promise. It gives us hope. This promise helps us dry away the tears. It reassures us that we can endure being physically separated from our loved ones because they still have life—in another form.

Yet, beyond this amazing promise, there is also the story of the Greatest Love. Easter is more touching and more promising because of what went before it. God the Son, left behind the power and glory of heaven to come into a human existence. And He didn’t even assume a comfortable position of power while He walked on the earth. Instead He walked with the poor, the lowly and then sinners. Then He suffered and died on their behalf and for us as well.

On Good Friday, my children and I try to put ourselves into a deeper awareness of this great mystery by going on a 14 mile pilgrimage walk. At each mile marker, one of the Stations of the Cross is read. We pray the rosary, say Divine Mercy and sing songs.

The experience of gaining blisters and sunburn, of listening to growling stomachs and feeling totally wiped out, helps us understand a little bit about the road to Calvary. We carry with us the memories of those who have died and the suffering of their loved ones. It helps us unite all suffering with the Cross.

We know of Protestants who cringe at the sight of a crucifix and who want to focus exclusively on the resurrected Christ. They say “the suffering is over.” But we know from life experience, that suffering continues every day in many ways. The only way to cope with suffering is to know that Jesus walks with us. He helps carry the load.

The crucifix makes Easter sweeter. The pain of the cross and the joy of the resurrection are inseparable in our faith. When Easter comes, it is all the more wonderful because it is a gift of the Greatest Love. And our pain is now made easier when it is united with the pain Jesus suffered.

Life starts over.

Lent has been about starting over. We put on the new self. We start over to walk with Jesus. Life is a journey. And we are on the road to our heavenly Home.

God bless you all. May this Easter be sweetened with the realization of the Promise.

–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

Preparing for First Communion

Preparing for First Communion

Preparing for First CommunionI wrote a letter for my students as they prepare for First Communion.

When my own children were preparing for the first reception of the Eucharist, I wrote something similar for them. It is my hope that parents and Sunday School teachers will copy this and give it to this year’s First Communion class.

My dear children,

Your first time to receive Jesus in the form of the Holy Eucharist will be happening soon. How wonderful! You will receive the very real presence of Jesus inside your body! But before that happens your family will be fussing. They’ll want you to look just right. “Where are your good shoes? Let me take your picture. Your grandmother wants to see you before we go to Church!”

They fuss because this is such a special day and they love you so much. They want it to be just right.

But don’t let all the commotion take away from what is really important, OK? When you go into Church notice everything as if you were seeing it for the first time. The light coming through the colored glass in the windows is so pretty. The light will be shining on you and your friends in a special way. That’s God’s way of saying, “Good morning and welcome to my house.”

All the girls are dressed in white. That is a symbol of purity. You will go to Confession before First Communion so your soul is very clean. We want to become a “tabernacle”—a dwelling place–for Jesus. He is the King of Kings, the Savior, Awesome One. So the white today represents what we want our souls to look like every time we come to Communion—beautiful, sparkling and clean.

When the bells ring during the middle of Mass, you may feel a tingling in your body. That is Jesus saying, “I am here on this altar. I have come to be with you.” At the moment the bells ring, when the priest holds up the host and everything is quiet, that is the very moment Jesus comes into the bread. Then he comes into the wine too. It is a deep mystery. A wonderful event.

The bread and wine still look and taste the same. But now they are completely different. They have been changed into Jesus—His body, blood, soul and divinity. So pay close attention. You’ll feel that tingling. The whole Church is called to attention in that moment. Hundreds of angels are bowing to Jesus in that moment. The earth is blessed in that moment. It is a miracle!

And then, for the first time in your life, you’ll walk forward to receive Jesus. You and your friends will go to Communion before anyone else. Jesus told us long ago that He loves children and He wants you to come to Him. When you receive Jesus, it is as if you have been touched by the most important person ever. Except that Jesus is more than a man. He is God too. So taking Him into your body is very special. He comes inside you, into the soul you have prepared for Him. He looks around to see: “Ah. This child has a clean soul. And yes, this child has been trying to be kind and loving to others. That pleases Me.”

When you go back to the pew, make sure you kneel down and talk to Him. He is sitting in the room of your soul waiting to hear from you. You can tell Him anything because He’s a really good listener! And sometimes, if you are really quiet and respectful, you can feel His presence. As you close your eyes and tell Him you love Him, you might see a color or a word. Sometimes, you’ll just know something you didn’t know before. Jesus speaks to us in different ways.

It is really important to pay attention. When you look around during Communion before this special day, you might think that lots of adults receive Jesus and hardly tell Him “thank you for coming to me in this way.” It may be true. Some adults forget how holy and special this sacrament is and they ignore Jesus. But when you bow your head and really talk to Jesus, the adults will see and it will change them! Afterwards, some of them will have tears in their eyes. Because you are their inspiration and example. You remind them to honor Jesus.

Your special day is almost here! Say extra prayers after you read this. Jesus will be so happy to help you prepare to receive Him.

God bless you dear ones,

Your Sunday School teacher

Mercy is Divine

Divine Mercy of God

Divine Mercy of GodHow awesome is God’s mercy! Only a God of Love would extend mercy to sinners like us.

Since the beginning of time, humans have ignored, disobeyed or turned cruelly against our Creator and Lord. Sometimes, these sins have happened right after God makes His presence known in a spectacular manner. Imagine being there when God parted the waters of the sea to offer your people a safe escape route, and yet a short while later, you are worshipping a golden calf! I think of myself as someone who wouldn’t do such a thing…Or would I?

I credited something to “luck” recently when clearly the credit should go to God. The examples of sin, in my own life, are sadly too numerous…

Awhile back my cell phone was missing. I didn’t realize it until we were all on our way out the door that morning. The kids had backpacks on their shoulders. I was putting a notebook in my bag. Then I remembered to ask, “Where’s the phone?”

My son shrugged. But I distinctly remembered that Peter used the phone the day before to call a friend about homework. In my mind, I retraced the sequence of events. We had gone to a basketball game. On the way home Peter used the phone to find out details about a school assignment.

So the phone wasn’t back at the gym. It wasn’t in the car. We checked the house. It wasn’t in any backpack or bag. I blamed Peter.

Brigit quietly spoke up. “Shouldn’t we pray to St. Anthony for help?”

I snapped, “We don’t have time!! I need to be at an interview in 30 minutes.” My voice was shaky. My eyebrows were furrowed.

Then I saw Brigit’s face. It must have been the same expression the angels had in that moment.

“Mom! Did you really just say you don’t have time for God’s help?”

I backtracked. We did pray. And as I opened my eyes, my gaze beheld the cell phone right in front of me on a bookshelf! And I felt humbled.

It brought a moment of clarity. I had just been disrespectful of the heavens. And yet, God still heard and helped a sinner like me.

I read once that St. Faustina’s confessor didn’t believe her visions so he told the saint he needed proof. He told her to ask God to enumerate his sins. If she could, then he would then know it was really Jesus she saw. The saint obliged.

“What are the sins of this priest, Lord?” she asked.

And God said, “I forget!”

Of course it’s not really a matter of God’s memory. It’s a matter of mercy. If God kept in mind all our sins, the pile would be so huge, it would obscure the sun! Recently, I came home from a busy day and asked the kids to help pick up household clutter. Each child picked up two things while I was imagining they might do the dishes, put away laundry and pick up all the stuff dragged around by the puppy. But two things!!

I had a mad mom moment.

It took awhile before it occurred to me…much as the anger had justification it wasn’t getting the house clean. And it was creating bad feelings.

If God acted on “justified anger” over the horrors of sin, the earth would not have lasted long.

Our God is kind and merciful.

But He does not offer this great gift so we can be presumptuous. Rather we should be filled with humility and awe over such wondrous Love.

And this great Love calls us to offer mercy to others in return.

Holy Week – Embracing Change

Palm Sunday—King or Servant? He is the Glorious Servant King!

Change is a challenge isn’t it? Let me tell you about our donkey and horse by way of example.

Three weeks ago, we changed the morning routine in our barnyard asking the horse and donkey to exit their stalls from the other side of the barn to go out to the pasture for food. Yet every morning, they continue to stand at the old gate, resisting the new routine. So I carry a handful of hay back to the barn and wait. They follow me with their eyes. Then when I stop coming towards them, they finally decide to see what is going on. Once they eat from my hand and see the other opening to the barn, they finally get the idea and run out, kicking their heels in the air!!

It’s just that it’s been going on for three weeks now and they still don’t get it! Change is hard. And humans don’t respond much better. At our parish we still call our priest “new”, even though he’s been with us for eight months now. We don’t adjust our ideas very quickly.

I imagine it was hard for the people in Jesus’ day to accept his teachings. They listened to Him for three years. He told them, “My kingdom is not of this earth.” He showed them He wasn’t raising an army to prepare for battle against the authorities. Yet that is what the Chosen people were expecting the Savior to do.

So, as Jesus told his disciples to go to the edge of Jerusalem and bring back a donkey, the people of the city prepared to greet a King. Jesus rode in on a lowly animal, while everyone rejoiced thinking that he was finally coming to establish an earthly kingdom.

Only a few days later, Jesus was crucified. Standing below the cross, we can picture the lowly donkey returning to the Master. The shadow of the cross falls on the animal. Ever since that time, the donkey wears two stripes of brown fur, shaped like a cross, on its back. The donkey was changed. Are we ready to change?

Jesus didn’t come to earth to reign in power and glory. Instead, he came to share the cross with all of us. He came to serve, rather than be served. He came to call us to change our ways, and become like him.

Though we may resist the burden of the cross, Jesus lifted it on our behalf. And our souls seem to recognize that gift. Our hearts reach down deep during Lent to prepare for change. We are readied for Holy Week by a time of ashes and repentance so that we can be transformed in Christ. We will be re-fashioned into something glorious and new…when we accept the cross.

Palm Sunday is our reminder to embrace this change and put on “the new self.” (Ephesians 4:24)

Out in the barnyard, just today, our animals are finally ready at the new gate. Change is good!

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!

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