Friday, April 24, 2009

Bishops with Backbones

I am not in the habit of blogging on current events. I barely have time to follow them and am usually a few days behind, but the decision by the Bishop of Steubenville to invite his flock to resume the practice of Friday abstinence from meat (outside of Lent) has me enamored! He had his letter read after all of the Sunday Masses in his diocese a few weeks ago, during Lent.

Now, here is what my husband and I refer to as a "Bishop with a Backbone!" I love that the Diocese of Steubenville has actually posted catechetical materials to go along with this invitation. The lessons they have prepared are practical and meaningful. Be sure to check them out! I especially appreciate that Bishop Conlon has tied the practice of abstinence to prayer for the protection of life!

The Catholic Church never completely did away from Friday abstinence; she merely instructed the faithful that it may be substituted by a different but comparable type of fasting. I will freely admit that I was never taught such doctrine, despite five and a half years of Catholic elementary school and three and a half years of CCD. I was always taught to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, period. Only during college was I introduced to the concept of voluntarily abstaining outside of Lent.

(What can you expect from a CCD program which taught teenagers that a sin is only a sin if you think it is a sin? I still have flashbacks to that classroom and the completely dumbfounded feeling I had listening to my teachers during that lesson.)

We have gone back and forth on abstaining from meat on the Fridays outside of Lent in our family, but I am convicted in a new way to obligate myself to this practice. My only question/concern is then, how does that make the Fridays in Lent any different from the rest of the year? Are they supposed to be different? If so, how can I make them distinct? Send me some comments if you have some answers, please!

Kudos to Bishop Conlon for making our "Bishops with Backbones" list!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009 ~ Third Sunday of Easter

Note: These Sunday & Holy Day Gospel Reflections are written so that mothers may prepare for Holy Mass in advance either as a small group or individually (especially since we are so often necessarily distracted during Mass itself).

Luke 24:35-48

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you."
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have."
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
"Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things."


Fears, worries, doubts - we all have them. The disciples "were startled and terrified" in this Sunday's Gospel. Two disciples were telling them about seeing Jesus, but they did not know what to make of that. They let fear and worry cloud their mind and prevent them from understanding that Jesus had risen and was standing before them.

When I was younger, I always said my two greatest fears were cancer and being alone. As a child, both my grandfather and a beloved aunt died from cancer, so to me, that was terrifying. It was a miserable, painful way to die, and I did not want to suffer as they did, nor suffer to watch, as those around them did. This was a rational fear to have. It is not a pleasant disease.

And, when I said I was scared of being alone, it was not fear of being alone in a room or a house. Instead, my fear arose from a lack of self-confidence, always needing someone to reassure me, encourage me, counsel me. I have always made friends relatively easy, but not close friends. It takes me a long time to feel comfortable enough with someone that I can open up fully to them. Until I can do that, I generally feel alone. Growing up, we moved a lot, and I was always hoping for a new friend in each place with whom I could be completely honest. This usually took some time.

My heart, however, has been opened to the Lord and His ways since adolescence. Fortunately, because I have already faced a near-miss with ovarian cancer, [the tumor went away on its own a month after it was discovered, despite several tests indicating it was malignant] and because I have a renewed appreciation for the value of suffering [thanks to a dear friend who silently witnessed to me before eventually dying of cystic fibrosis complications], my first fear of cancer is no more.

My eyes are now open to see that whatever God hands me, I will face with His help. He has taught me through my life experiences, through the encounters I have had with His Word and the teachings of His Church, and through other people that He will never leave me, even if I think He is not there. The clouds of that fear have lifted to reveal even the beauty of such suffering. Try SALVIFICI DOLORIS if you need a place to start such a journey.

Being afraid of being alone, though, is not completely gone. Instead of a fear, it is more of a sorrow. I dislike being alone. I always wish to have someone with whom to share my joys and sorrows. My husband, fortunately, is most often that person for me, but there are some times that our schedules, my respect for his needs, and prudence dictate that I must keep silent. It is during those periods that I suffer in the interior of my heart and can only share with my Lord. And even then, there are still clouds in my mind when I cannot let go of the feeling of being alone to have confidence in God's living presence in my life.

What are my fears today? Do I have complete confidence in the words Jesus speaks through the Gospel? Or, like the disciples, am I waiting for proof that I should have confidence in Him? Imagine - two disciples share their experience of Jesus coming to them. Then, Jesus Himself comes amidst them, and they are still "incredulous." It takes the physical evidence of Jesus eating a piece of fish to prove to the disciples that He is not a ghost. Then, their minds are opened. What do we demand of Jesus to allow us to let go of our fears and doubts? A sign? A guarantee?

Lord, help me to "be not afraid." Give me the inner strength to have confidence in your loving mercy and your divine power alive in my life! I know that you will not abandon me, and I am sorry for the times I have abandoned you. Bless me with the grace and peace you gave the disciples between Easter and Pentecost. Help me believe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Do You Love Your Neighbor?

These ideas were developed by me for my local group and are not a part of the official Little Flowers Girls Club ® created by Rachel Watkins. To purchase the excellent materials and begin your own local group, please visit

I am so uplifted by our Little Flowers meetings! Praise God for the privilege of being around so many children who are being properly formed in the Faith! As the girls were reciting their Scripture songs, I stopped singing with them for a bit to listen to their angelic, innocent voices - so sincere and pure!

On Easter Friday, we began the virtue Love of Neighbor. Our meeting began with the usual prayers - offering, Hail Mary, and St. Therese song (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star). Then, I gave the girls blank stickers just like last meeting and asked them to write their names on them and stick them to the tape measure two moms were holding out. This was to continue the visual we started at the last meeting with Love of God.

Before we talked about it, though, I shared about our saint for this virtue, St. Jane Frances de Chantal. I shared with the girls that I knew very little about this saint before preparing for this meeting, and that I am impressed by her sanctity. Here is her story as I told it, facts collected from a variety of online sources.
Jane was born in Dijon, France in 1572. Her mother, sadly, died when she was only 1 ½ years old. Her father was head of parliament in Dijon, which meant he was very important in the government. He gave Jane a wonderful education and passed on to her a remarkable faith, mostly through the daily family discussion on religion he led in the evenings.

When she was 21, she married Baron de Chantal and moved into his castle! But, no sooner had she moved in when she discovered her new husband owed a lot of money and they were in danger of losing their home and land.

Jane took charge, personally organizing and supervising every detail of the estate, which brought the finances under control and won her servants’ hearts, as well. When things were stable, Jane and her husband focused themselves entirely on one another and their four children.

Jane restored the custom of daily Mass in the castle chapel and was involved in many charitable works. One way Jane shared her blessings was by giving bread and soup personally to the poor who came to her door. Often people who had just received food from her would pretend to leave, go around the house and get back in line for more. When asked why she let these people get away with this, Jane said, “What if God turned me away when I came back to him again and again with the same request?”

Jane adored her husband but when he was away in the army or at court, she was criticized for her plain, dull manner of dressing. She responded, “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here.”

Just seven years into their marriage, however, the Baron was killed in a hunting accident. Before he died, her husband forgave the man who shot him, but it was harder for Jane. First, she began greeting him on the street. When she could do that, she invited him into her home. Finally, she was able to forgive the man so completely that she became godmother to his child.

After her husband’s death, her father-in-law insisted she and her children live with him, but he was a vain, fierce and extravagant old man. Despite his grumpiness, Jane managed to stay cheerful in spite of him and his difficult housekeeper.

Throughout all these troubles, Jane opened her heart completely to God. She took a vow of chastity, never to marry again, and prayed for a spiritual director. St. Francis de Sales was then a bishop who visited Dijon and soon became her director and best friend.

With Francis’ support, Jane founded the Visitation order of nuns for women who were rejected by other religious orders because of poor health or advanced age. She even accepted a woman who was 83 years old. This time when criticized, she responded, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side.” She believed people should have a chance to live their calling regardless of their health.

The Visitation nuns undertook great spiritual and corporal works of mercy with the intention of living the virtues of Mary at the Visitation – humility and meekness – when she went to see Elizabeth. Their method of attaining perfection was John 8:29 – “I do always the things that please Him.” – and they were known to “Desire nothing! Refuse nothing!” They took care of neighbors with charity and patience. Jane also considered it a huge sin to speak unkindly of her neighbor.

Even though her role as founder was busy and her reputation for sanctity was widespread, inspiring many queens, princes, princesses, ambassadors, and archbishops to seek her advice and spiritual direction, Jane was always a devoted mother and continued to counsel her children throughout her life and give them the highest priority in her duties.

Afterwards, I asked the girls to tell me why they think St. Jane Frances de Chantal was chosen as our saint for Love of Neighbor. They had great answers, which mostly demonstrated they were listening to her story. Then, I moved over to our tape measure cross that I had assembled on a pillar.

I reviewed that the previous week we had put stickers with drawings of things of this world that we love or really like a lot. We put a heart with God at the top to remind us that we must love God above all things, the first part of the Greatest Commandment - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

Then, I explained that we put our names on the new stickers to indicate everyone around us, or our neighbors. This is to demonstrate the second part of the Greatest Commandment - "Love your neighbor as yourself." Put together, they form the cross, which is the symbol of a Christian.

I talked briefly about how St. Jane spent her life serving the poor and the sick and that the girls might not have the opportunity to love their neighbors in that way until they are older (although some may from time to time now). It is most important, therefore, that the girls practice loving those they see everyday, and these can sometimes be the hardest to love. I asked the girls to name all the people they see each day and each week and ways they can show love. Everyone from parents to the mailman was mentioned, and it was a good reminder that just because you cannot be like St. Jane now, it does not mean that you do not practice loving your neighbor now in the little ways, just like St. Therese teaches us.

Actually, I was going to transition into presenting the flower for this virtue, which is the rose, but something distracted me, and I completely forgot to share that point with the girls. I will incorporate it next week, of course.

Next, I explained our craft. The girls were to make two bracelets out of flower pony beads, one to keep and one to give to a neighbor who is not at the Little Flowers meeting. I wanted to force the girls to explain to someone why they are giving the bracelet and knew they would just trade bracelets at the meeting if I said they could. They really enjoyed this simple craft except that the cording I bought was difficult to tie and did not stay knotted well. Oh, and we ran out of pink beads too quickly! :)

We had snack, and I set up for the game. I was not sure how this was going to work, but I really wanted to play the game "Do You Love Your Neighbor?" It has some relation to musical chairs, so I needed "chairs." Being outdoors in a park pavilion, we only have picnic tables. So, another mom and I taped paper plates to the concrete slab in a circle instead. I had previously moved all the picnic tables to the outer edges of the pavilion for this purpose. It ended up working pretty well, praise be to God!

There was one plate for each girl except one, and each girl stood on a plate. The one who was leftover stood in the middle of the circle. The girls ask of the girl in the middle, "(name), do you love your neighbor?" She responds, "Yes, especially those (blank)." Everyone who fits the description she gives must change to a different paper plate while the first girl tries to get a plate, as well. This results in a different girl being leftover in the middle and the question being posed again. Some descriptions were: wearing sandals, has a ponytail, wearing a necklace, wearing a Little Flowers sash, etc...

This got the girls running and laughing, which was my main point. Plus, they will not forget what our meeting was about after reciting the question over and over! After the game, we learned the new Scripture song for Love of Neighbor. Then, I let them practice the first three Scripture songs we learned while I prepared for our second patch ceremony.

I remembered to keep this patch ceremony much simpler. The girls all sang the three Scripture songs that applied to the three patches girls would be receiving, and then I passed out the patches to each girl. Another mother and I had previously alphabetized all of the project sheets to be able to give them back to the girls this time for their scrapbook or school records.

As before, I called out a girl's name and just handed her the patch(es) she earned; I did not tell which ones she earned. Everyone applauded each time, and one of the mothers got the girls saying, "Hip, hip, hooray!" for each girl. It went well. I did forget, however, until one girl reminded me, to close in prayer. Once the girls get their patches, they tend to leave the circle to show mom or mingle, so I need to remember to do closing prayers before we distribute patches next time.

Some of the mothers helped to pass out the Love of Neighbor Patch Project Sheet as the girls left. It was a nice meeting. Simple. Fun. Meaningful. The Holy Spirit did a great job, as usual! Below is the project sheet for your reference. Our next meeting is May 1, and I hope to incorporate some kind of Marian theme with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Per the request of the official Little Flowers Girls Club ® I have removed the downloadable patch project sheets and practice pages. If you are interested in learning about how I used these documents in my group, please contact me directly.