Growing Lawns… And Growing Faith

By Dana Doyle

danaI take lots of pleasure and pride in my yard and garden. There is something about working the land, sowing, weeding, trimming, pruning, etc. that feels to primal and fulfills my need to nurture. Recently, I used “Weed and Feed” on my lawn… Well 2/3 of my lawn died and turned to mud!  Ugh!

Consequently, I have spent A LOT of time recently in the yard – raking dead patches of grass to get down to the dirt, spreading new Bermuda seed, watering daily, (getting impatient and planting St. Augustine plugs), watering some more…

dana2I got to thinking today how growing relationships is very much like trying to grow a lawn. It takes work, time, trust and most of all perseverance!  Our relationship with God is no exception. We have to take the time to get to know Him – show Him that we truly have a desire to put Him FIRST in our lives. This involves praying and attending mass even when we don’t feel like it.  It involves reading scripture and faith books.  It involves trusting that God will sprout those little seeds of faith in our lives when we “water daily.”

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who was struggling with many stresses and losses in her life.  Why would God allow this?  When will all the suffering end?  How much more?  I wanted so much to be able to give her a quick satisfactory answer, but knew that nothing I could say would placate her sadness.

Life has its ups and downs – to be sure! If things are going great – BAD NEWS – this will change!  If things are going terrible – GOOD NEWS – this will change! Everything in life is subject to change – EXCEPT GOD.  He always was, is and will be – unchanging, almighty!  If we give diligent attention to nurturing the gift of faith (like watering the grass seeds) in the good times, then we will have an abiding peace (the peace that He alone can give) when things happen that test our faith.

God has planted the seeds of faith in your heart.  Get out there, water them and FEEL them grow!

Dana Doyle is a teacher and religion coordinator at Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville, a wife, a mother of three, an author and an avid blogger. Visit her blog, “Catholic Working Mom” at www.danardoyle.wordpress.com. Read more about this blogger here.

A mother’s bodily love

By Dr. Tom Neal

Over the last 12 years, my wife Patti and I suffered the loss of six children through miscarriage. I say “my wife and I” because, of course, those children – God’s gift to us – were our children. But I immediately must qualify our common experience of those painful losses by saying that she suffered each loss in a way I simply cannot understand. Each of these children – the “fruit of her womb” – came into existence and perished in her body, not mine, and in her body she felt in such an intimate way both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow. I shed tears, she heaved and sobbed. I prayed, she cried out. My heart ached, her womb labored in pain.

I have often reflected on the embodied beauty of a mother’s love; of the flesh-and-blood intimacy of mother and child during the nine months of gestation; of the post-birth communion of eyes and faces and smiles; of the self-sacrificing feeding of the newborn’s body with her body’s milk. How terrifyingly exquisite.

When my wife first found out she was pregnant with our first child, she was at the doctor’s office for a routine visit. Before administering shots, the doctor asked Patti if she was pregnant. My wife said, “I don’t think so.” The doctor quipped back, “That’s not good enough. We’ll check.” A few minutes later the doctor came into the room and she smiled at my wife: “Guess what?” After exchanging together expressions of excitement, the doctor – who never expressed any particular sense of religious faith – said to Patti: “You have to take really good care of your health, because from this moment on that baby is the center of your body, and your body will sacrifice its own welfare to keep that baby alive and thriving.”

I’ve had the privilege of knowing many extraordinary mothers over the years, and that doctor’s description of a mother’s body-language describes them all so well: “Sacrificing their own welfare to keep that baby alive and thriving.” Mothers reveal Christ in a way fathers cannot, they teach the world a unique love and tender compassion that I bow in awe before. Like the Virgin Mary, they give birth to Beauty in the world.

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings–not only towards her own child, but every human being–which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man–even with all his sharing in parenthood–always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother. One can say that this is part of the normal human dimension of parenthood, including the stages that follow the birth of the baby, especially the initial period. The child’s upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother’s contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality. – St. John Paul II

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal is originally from Rhode Island. He has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.  Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus

Do-Over

By Sr. Judy Gomila, M.S.C.

judy2The red lettering across the top of my term paper screamed “DO OVER”! Fans of a dessert I made recently offered a flattering, “This is a definite DO-OVER.” Sometimes the call for a “re-do” is an opportunity to improve, a second chance; it can also afford us the prospect of recreating.

Throughout this Easter Season, dancing with Resurrection joy toward Pentecost, I found myself reflecting on a text message I had received Easter Sunday from a friend:

“Renew, rejoice, re-think, re-love, re-hope … have become my Easter mantra.”

The unceasing, faithful love and on-going forgiveness of the Risen Christ allows our hearts to rest confidently in the knowledge that we are free. Whatever our past, we have another chance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God holds no grudge, harbors no ill will, has no ulterior motive. Love gave his life for us once and for all; no need for a do-over on our part. We are people of hope and experience re-hope when we grasp that “our hope is in the Lord.” Ps. 39:7

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This season’s scripture offers beautiful images like the Good Shepherd and the “cornerstone”. During evening prayer recently, I felt drawn back to re-think belonging to that amazing Shepherd and to re-connecting with the rest of the flock. In the new evangelization, there is the call for greater acceptance for our sisters and brothers. Compassion, justice, charity, etc. necessitate a do-over (and over again) even toward those of another fold. Such ministry is not a quick fix; inevitably, in the human condition, do-overs are often required. (You recall 70 x 7, don’t you?)

Jesus came to save us from the guilt and power of our sins. He came to reconcile us to God and make us saints in the ordinary.  Not to mix images, but the Lamb of God once slain for our sins is now the Risen Jesus, the Good Shepherd. St. Peter reminds us in Acts, “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” Ps. 118: 22 Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the cornerstone of our faith.

  • What has been your experience of a “do-over”?

  • In any facet of our Catholic faith have you embraced a “do-over”?

  • How is this Easter Season helping to prepare you for the gifts of Pentecost?

Here’s a little music to accompany your reflection:

HS_JudyGomilaSr. Judith Gomila, MSC is a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross. She holds a Masters in Theology and Religious Studies from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Sr. Judy has served the Church in education/evangelization/mission outreach for 50 years. Currently she coordinates the Public Relations and Communication ministry for the Marianite Congregation and is co-director of the Marianite Associates, an organization for lay women and men who identify with Holy Cross spirituality. For more about this blogger, click here.

Couples and Families, “Behold Your Mother”

By Jason Angelette

Many Catholic weddings have a moment where the newly married bride and groom walk over to a statue of Our Lady to honor her with flowers and to say a prayer asking for her intercession for their marriage. At that time, usually, the Ava Maria is sung and then the couple walks back to their places by the altar and the ceremony continues. It is here that we see not just a nice ritual, but rather a beautiful truth about Mary and her role in our own lives together. In this moment where a special attention is brought to Mary, there should be a couple of things to remember about Mary and why we should turn to her as well as to heed the words of our Lord, “Behold Your Mother,” for our marriage and for our family.

photo 4In John’s Gospel, we read that the place were Jesus performs his first miracle was at a wedding and it was prompted by His mother. On a larger scale we can see that just as Eve prompted the fall and the divide that followed, Mary prompts redemption and the salvation that was promised. Mary’s role is no small one just as Eve’s role in the fall was no small one either. But also on a smaller scale, Mary more than took care of a young couple’s needs. Just as the couple at Cana was aided by Mary, we too can go to the Mother of God for her intercession in our lives for our marriage and for our family.

But we are not only reminded of Cana on at a Catholic wedding but Calvary as well. A bride and groom stand not only in a Church but conduct their wedding in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are brought back to the moment where Jesus gave his life for his bride. And right before He gave up His Spirit, He said to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” At that very hour, he welcomed her into his home. We must see this request as not limited to the Beloved Disciple but to all of us. Christ wants His Mother to be our Mother.

Saint Robert Bellarmine, Cardinal-Bishop and Doctor of the Church wrote, “It seems unbelievable that a man should perish in whose favor Christ said to His Mother: ‘Behold thy son’, provided that he has not turned a deaf ear to the words, which Christ addressed to him: ‘Behold thy Mother’”. 

Prayer intentions and tokens of thanks fill the grotto at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in New Orleans

Prayer intentions and tokens of thanks fill the grotto at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in New Orleans

Jesus makes it a family affair by allowing His mother, the new Eve, to be Mother of us all. And so Mary is blessed among all women. She is full of grace. She is the one who continues to do the  will of the Father in Heaven, and she is our Mother who constantly intercedes for us, especially at times our requests might be made from a weak and broken heart. Her prayers will always be spoken from an immaculate heart. As mother, she is given the task to lead us and love us closer her Son, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. And this blessing of hers does not come from her but comes from Her Son. Thanks be to God!

Mary has become Mother of us all and we should not turn away from this great gift given to us from our Lord.

One simple and powerful way we can welcome Mary into our homes is through praying the Rosary, individually, as a couple and as a family. Here’s a great resource to learn how to pray the rosary with reflections on the mysteries.

“Among all the devotions approved by the Church none has been so favored by so many miracles as the devotion of the Most Holy Rosary.” – Pope Pius IX

“There is no surer means of calling down God’s blessings upon the family . . . than the daily recitation of the Rosary.” – Pope Pius XII

“How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening.” – St. John Paul II

“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.” – Pope St. Pius X

May Mary, our Blessed Mother, bless and hear the prayers of all mothers, couples and families! Happy Mother’s Day!

jason_angelette_0035Jason Angelette holds a master’s degree in theological studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Jason has served as a high school campus minister and has taught theology at the high school and university levels. He speaks at youth festivals, conferences, and retreats nationwide. Jason and his wife, Elise, are co-directors of Faith and Marriage at the Willwoods Community in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He also co-hosts Issues & Faith, a weekly program on New Orleans’s public television affiliate.

Don’t Let it Go!

By Dana Doyle

We have done our extra prayers, sacrifices and good deeds in preparation for the greatest celebration of the year – the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Easter Sunday has come and gone. DON’T LET GO of the Easter Joy for which you’ve spent so much time preparing yourself! Remember that the Easter season lasts for 50 days – until we celebrate the birth of the Church on Pentecost.

Here are 12 suggestions for extending and fully living the Easter Joy in your families:

  1. As a family, pray each day for the 360 people in our Archdiocese who just entered the Church. This is a reason for great rejoicing!
  2. Make an “Alleluia” banner for your home, or have the kids make an Alleluia sign – complete with sparkles and “bling” for your refrigerator door.
  3. Write a thank you note to your parish priest for the beautiful Easter Mass and all he does for the parish.
  4. Adorn any crucifixes in your home with white drapes made out of small scraps of fabric as a visual reminder that we are still in the Easter season.
  5. Look up the baptism dates for each family member. Post them on the refrigerator, and celebrate those as well as birthdays!
  6. Purchase a holy water font for your home for use as a daily reminder of how we renewed our baptismal promises at the Easter mass.
  7. Plant a resurrection garden as a family, complete with flowers and a cross or religious statue. (If you use a Mary statue, you can have a May Crowning next month.)
  8. Have a family picnic to enjoy springtime and all of the beautiful gifts that God has given us in nature. Talk about how springtime reminds us of the Resurrection.
  9. Make resurrection rolls or cookies.
  10. Celebrate Holy Days together! Celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday as a family, then go home and have Divine Mercy ice cream sundaes! On Ascension Thursday, choose a family intention. As a family, pray the Holy Spirit Novena for that intention until Pentecost.
  11. Celebrate Saints feast days by learning about them and choosing a virtue to imitate – like simplicity, perseverance, or a prayer habit. Research the saint’s culture and try a dish from their country of origin. There’s St. Mark on April 25th, St. Zita on the 27th, Blessed Gianna on the 28th, and St. Catherine of Siena on the 29th.   On May 1st, there’s St. Joseph the Worker. I like to use the “Saint of the Day” audio at American Catholic.org.
  12. The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is May 11. As a family, pray for vocations. Perhaps you might even plan to attend the priestly ordination at St. Louis Cathedral on June 6th!

These are just a few ideas. Hopefully, I’ve gotten your creative juices flowing! I pray that you and your families enjoy a very blessed Easter Season!

Dana Doyle is a teacher and religion coordinator at Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville, a wife, a mother of three, an author and an avid blogger. Visit her blog, “Catholic Working Mom” at www.danardoyle.wordpress.com. Read more about this blogger here.

Completing the race and keeping the faith!

By Karen Baker

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tm 4:7)

I was a little sick, it was a little chilly, and the misty rain had me thinking of a warm cab ride back to my car at City Park.

But I worked up the nerve to walk the 6.2-mile Crescent City Classic on Holy Saturday. Along the way, I considered how to extract some theological significance from this journey. So here’s what I came up with:

The incarnation. God came to dwell among us, and we find God in our midst when we are together. The Classic brought out the best in humanity, it seemed to me. How else can you explain more than 20,000 people taking a walk in the park with little evidence of trouble? There was a sense of joy and shared purpose. Just look at the pictures.

Our upward calling. It is a sense of shared purpose that gives the Christian story life. We are all on this divine journey together, bound together through baptism as the Body of Christ. What if we could be as devoted and dedicated to our Christian journey each day as those of us who ran/walked the CCC? When I started to get a little weary toward the end, I kept thinking of St. Paul:  Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).

The beginning and the end. As I marked each mile (while my daughter the runner waited patiently at the finish line), it occurred to me that I was on the way back to my beginning. We had parked at City Park, took a bus to the starting line, and now I was walking back to the park, where I started. It reminded me that God is our beginning and our end, our alpha and our omega. We are always headed back to Him.

So after almost two hours, I crossed the finish line. I can’t say I competed well, but I kept the faith, I finished the race, and I went home to rest up for the Easter Vigil. I was a little tired, it was a little late, but neither height nor depth nor any other thing could keep me away from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

karenbakerKaren Baker is a freelance writer with a Masters in Pastoral Studies from the Loyola Institute for Ministry. She works in the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in ministry at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville.

Risen to play

By Dr. Tom Neal

Resurrection (Noli me tangere) by Giotto, 1304 Taken from http://vultus.stblogs.org

Resurrection (Noli me tangere) by Giotto, 1304 Taken from http://vultus.stblogs.org

As I read the Resurrection narratives in the liturgies of these days of Easter Octave, and especially in yesterday’s “hide and seek” interchange between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, I cannot help but see in them all a beautiful and playful innocence. The sheer surprise and joy, spontaneous expressions of affection and astounded amazement, or the sometimes disoriented fear that springs alive during the Resurrection appearances makes me think that somehow God enjoys the childlike wonder that His deed of surpassing love has awakened in a world grown old and jaded in sin.

Playing Jesus?

The other day just before Mass, my youngest daughter was looking at the Triduum readings and asked me why Jesus is always so solemn in the Gospels, so seemingly grave. “Like,” she said, “why does he always begin sentences with, ‘Amen, Amen’? Who speaks like that?” I replied very confidently, explaining as best I could the “Amen, Amen” comment and then relied on some of Fr. James Martin’s examples in Between Heaven and Mirth, arguing that of course Jesus had a lighter, more playful side and had a sense of humor. But my brief argument, bolstered by a few examples of first century Semitic humor in the Gospels, did not convince her. She said,

Ya, sure. But I mean, you don’t hear that Jesus had fun — except of course when he was a kid. And you just never hear anything like, “And Jesus went out and played with his disciples.”

It took all my power to not burst out laughing. Not because I thought her point was silly, but because it was so deep and jarring. She said it with such sincerity that it struck my heart and formed a new and surprising insight in my mind about what a “playful Jesus” would even mean in the Gospels.

Then, as I was reflecting on all of these Resurrection Gospels, I got a vivid sense that the Risen Jesus — and so the whole New Creation he has prepared for us — must be filled to overflowing with the innocent joy of God’s eternal childhood that has been restored to humanity in Jesus. God’s desire to joyfully play with man again dawned on Easter morning, even before sunrise. Think here of Proverbs 8:30-31. What a whimsical view of God’s creative Wisdom!

I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times. Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.

Returning to today’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene, like a child, tries to wrap her arms tightly around Jesus, as if to say: “Don’t leave!” But Jesus at once tell her to stop holding on to him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. Here I don’t hear in his voice a kill-joy scold. Rather, I hear a laughing voice saying, “Not yet! Just wait till you get to the New Garden I’ve made for you. There we can play and dance and laugh in sheer joy for unending ages!”

That’s an interpretation I would never have come to without my daughter having first taught me. I, who have grown old in sin, am graced again and again through my children to see the world again through a child’s eyes.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal is originally from Rhode Island. He has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.  Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus