Monday, December 28, 2009

The Beauty of Christmas and the Beautiful

I "survived" another Christmas Eve dinner. I love Christmas, it's the most beautiful and hopeful of feasts but honestly, it's exhausting. The high point of Christmas Eve (besides the beautiful liturgy my family attended early in the evening) was my two-year-old cousin, who I adore. She opened one of the presents I bought her which was a cookie baking set, which came with accessories. She immediately put the oven mitt on, that it came with. It fit her perfectly and she served us wooden cookies on a tray. It was so sweet and a memory I will always hold dear. The food was also memorable and the gifts I received, the gifts given and so much more. 
One thing that I did in the last few weeks was to nominate a CNN hero for 2010. It was a simple online application. I recently had the privilege of meeting a modern day "hero,"who I nominated. I'm a fan of the CNN special show-"Heroes", which is an all-star tribute taped in Hollywood, and shown on Thanksgiving Night, which highlights modern day heroes.  If you are not familiar with the show, "heroes" are nominated by friends, acquaintances or relatives each year and then on Thanksgiving night the good works of these extraordinary human beings are highlighted on CNN along with film footage of their amazing projects. Ten are chosen and are given an award and a donation for their work. One is named the "CNN Hero of the Year." In 2009, Efren Penaflorida, who started a pushcart classroom in the Philippines to bring education to poor children was the top winner. On Thanksgiving night, I watched some of the show, and learned about the work of a community crusader from Queens, NY, who is sometimes called the "angel of Queens." Jorge Munoz, along with his family, feeds over a hundred homeless and hungry men each night, who "gather under the elevated 7 train in Jackson Heights, Queens." Munoz is a bus driver by day and when he comes home from work, he begins cooking the meals, with his family, for these poor people. He estimates that he has fed more than 70,000 people since 2004. A true hero, a true humanitarian. I'm so impressed with his noble community work and the other heroes, who have made a difference in the world and acted upon their desire to help those in need.  
For the New Year, besides my usual resolutions, I want to spend more time looking for the beauty that surrounds me. The beauty in others, in nature, in simple, quiet times, in my love of books and writing and in my relationship with God. There is much beauty in our world and sometimes we are just too caught up in living and striving and we forget to stop, look and appreciate more. 
I like this quote that I found in one of my books, Tea Time with God, "Beauty feeds our soul, like food nourishes our bodies. Beauty points us to the transcendent, takes us beyond our finiteness and opens our hearts to that which is greater and larger than ourselves."
A Blessed and Happy New Year to All! 

Keep a place in life for beauty    Leslie Weatherhead

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Humble Beginnings for the Savior

As reported in many news outlets, an interesting discovery, close to the feast of Christmas was made by archaeologists in Nazareth, Israel. The discovery will likely shed more light on the hamlet where Jesus lived as a young boy. The remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus, shows a humble dwelling in an isolated village. "The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of about 50 houses on a patch of about four hundred acres. It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.......Based on clay and chalk fragments found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a 'simple Jewish family'.......The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the family who lived in the dwelling were 'simple.'"
Simple, humble beginnings for the Savior of the world. And now over 2,000 years later, more than two billion people in the world will celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. Hymns will be sung, Masses celebrated, Prayer Services will be held the world over.  Preparations are under way for magnificent liturgies, prayers, celebrations, parties, dinners, feasts and gift-giving, all in honor of the birth of the Savior and Redeemer of the world. 
As for me, I am preparing to have a Christmas Eve feast at my house with my family and relatives. My aunt (who is 89 years old) is busy preparing the traditional Italian fish salad, which takes her days to prepare. It's the best! I will be busy cooking and baking over the next couple of days as well. 
Wishing all a very Blessed and Merry Christmas! May the birth of our Savior- the Prince of Peace and the beauty and love of this holy Season give us reason to hope. We also have reason to believe in God's abundant generosity and love. Peace!

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

A little child is born for us, and he shall be called the mighty God; every race on earth shall be blessed in him.  (See Is 9:6; Ps. 71:17)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Best Christmas Card of All

The most beautiful Christmas Card I received this year (so far) is from the Sisters of Life. They had a wonderful idea and created a card with the faces of adorable children, dressed as the Three Kings.  These are children whose mothers decided against abortion. Moses, dressed as King Balthasar was born in 2006 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent. Isaiah, dressed as King Caspar was also born in '06. T'veigh Emmanuel dressed as King Melchior was born in 2007. This was the message inside the card, "The little magi on this card are three of the more than 10,000 children whose mothers have had the courage to give them life with the support of our missions. Through the gifts and treasures you bring to these missions, you participate in welcoming the Christ Child into the world. For this we call YOU the Magi." 
I have displayed the card in a prominent place in my home. It makes me happy just looking at the faces of these children. To think that my small donation, when added to all the others, can do so much good. 
I found this on their website-"The Sisters of Life is a contemplative/active religious community of women founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O'Connor for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life. Like all religious communities, we take the three traditional vows but also we are consecrated under a special, fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life."
Cardinal O'Connor must be smiling down on these wonderful women who have done so much good for the cause of life. And their numbers are growing. Whenever I receive their newsletter, I'm always pleased to see the faces and read the biographies of young women who are responding to a  worthy cause and vocation. They all look very happy. At times, when I'm in Manhattan, I see the Sisters walking through the city confidently going about their work. 

O Antiphon for Dec. 17th

O Sapientia-O Wisdom

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.


My prayer is for the Church-O Wisdom, Most Holy, Give Wisdom through the Spirit to your Church, to all leaders within the Church, so that the Body of Christ might flourish and succeed in doing Your will. Amen.  


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Great Advent Saint

Recently I was asked to pray the "Traditional Grace Prayer" at my cousin's wedding reception. I considered it a great honor. Before I led the praying of "Grace," I thanked God for the gift of love that the couple shared and for all the blessings in our family. I then recited a quote from the writings of one of my favorite Carmelite saints-St. John of the Cross. He wrote, "In the evening of life, you will be judged by how well you have loved." And then we prayed together. That beautiful quote from St. John is very telling and gives insight into how important love is to God and to our relationship with each other. It's very clear in the Gospels, Jesus commanded us to love one another. I often think of what a different world this would be if humankind had only listened, really listened to those words and acted upon them. Just that one command, if fulfilled, could have brought peace and justice to our world. 
St. John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystical poet and Doctor of the Church suffered much is his life. He suffered rejection, alienation, ridicule, mocking and yet he wound up becoming a great saint and Doctor of the Church. He imitated Jesus and he loved Jesus as only a mystic can, without any conditions. 
St. John of the Cross is an Advent saint. His feast day is December 14th. He is one of the many saints, I look forward to meeting in Heaven. Can you imagine meeting the great saints in Heaven?

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The soul has to proceed rather by unknowing rather than knowing.

Desire to imitate Christ and study his life.   
St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Digging Deeper Into Faith and Belief

On the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I gave a talk on Mary, the Mother of God, to a group of men and women. As always, whenever I am preparing to give a talk, I do a lot of research and then I add personal reflection and experiences. I have been studying the Catholic religion most of my adult life, either formally at Fordham or informally through all my years of teaching, reading, praying, and listening to homilies and talks. I love the mystery and depth in the Catholic religion and since I can never learn all there is to know, I am always "digging deeper," learning more, gaining insights and that keeps it interesting. So when I give a talk I always learn something, both from the research I do as well as from the participants. So on Monday night, I sat with a group of Catholics, who like me, are interested in knowing more. One definition of theology is-faith seeking understanding and whenever that happens its a great dynamic. 
One thing that I mentioned that people seemed surprised to learn is how the date of December 8th was decided. The Church celebrates the birth of Mary on September 8th. The date of the Immaculate Conception was determined by counting back nine months from this date. So we celebrate on Dec. 8th, that Mary was conceived and born without original sin, given a special privilege by God, for Mary is Theotokos-God-bearer. That qualifies her, no doubt. Do you know that name of the Pope who declared Mary free from every stain of sin?      (It was Pius IX)
On December 8th, 1854 Pope Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was preserved exempt from all stain of sin."
Pius IX on December 8th declared the dogma. There's a nine and an eight in that sentence. The Church celebrates Mary's birth on September 8th. Another 9 and an 8. Perhaps it's just coincidental, but there are a lot of nine's and eight's in this story.......(I didn't mention this in the talk but it makes for interesting blogging).

The Most High has sanctified his own tabernacle.  (Psalm 46:5)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gifts for the Infant Jesus

In an attempt to cultivate a spirit of giving and generosity, I ask my sons each year what they would like to give for Christmas to help others, along with what they would like. My family has made a donation to Heifer International for the last few years, to help the poor.  I read an article years ago, which suggested that we ask children, "What would you like to give for Christmas," instead of, "What do you want to get for Christmas?" 
I was reading in the Long Island Catholic this morning about an idea developed by the Office of New Evangelization in the Diocese of Rockville Center, that I loved.
The Office is initiating a week of prayer for all children. The director of the new office, Franciscan Brother James McVeigh was quoted as saying, "As we prepare for Christmas we are trying to awaken in the hearts of all the faithful to look to the Infant Jesus. The Infant Jesus embraces all, especially needy children....As children get ready for Christmas, it is important for them to learn that there are many children who are suffering." The week of prayer will begin on Sunday, Dec. 13th. There will be prayers with different petitions for each day of the week. Children will be praying for homeless and hungry children, orphans and victims of war, and others. Brother James said, "We are uniting in prayer to the Infant Jesus for our children and youth by encouraging our families to pray for different groups of children each day. Showing our love and concern for these troubled children witnesses a powerful example that the Catholic Church cares for the spiritual and temporal welfare of all our children."
What a great Advent idea! The prayers will be available online and I will download them to pray along with all the children, youth and families that will be praying these prayers during Advent. 
Prayers are available at the office's website at- evangelization.html

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.  St. Augustine

Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.  William Blake

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Decade from Hell-The Season of Hope

On the first Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading from Luke was very ominous. Here is the first part of it, Jesus said to his disciples, 'There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.'
In an interesting article in Time Magazine that I read (part of) online, titled, The '00's: Goodbye (At Last) to the Decade from Hell by Andy Serwer, he wrote the following, ...Though the dreaded millenial meltdown never happened on Jan. 1st, 2000, instead it was the American dream that was about to dim. Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post-World War II era. We're still weeks away from the end  of '09, but it's not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever  you want-just give thanks that it is nearly over. 
 I never thought about it until I read the Time article but perhaps looking ahead to the next decade with hope, isn't such a bad idea. Good riddance to the decade filled with so much loss, tragedy, disappointment and greed. 
Let's hope our redemption is at hand, as it stated in yesterday's gospel. Perhaps we've lived through the trial, that was the last decade and alluded to in the gospel.  
As Christians we always look to the future with hope. And it's Advent, the Season of Hope. The Season when we are able to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord. Pure joy!! I read these words spoken by Pope Benedict at the start of Advent, on Rocco Palmo's famous blog and I loved them so here they are....words of hope from Pope Benedict.......Jesus, "rock" like God, I like that.

“The contemporary world needs hope above all; this is true for developing peoples but especially for developed peoples.... With the collapse of so many false certainties, we are becoming especially aware of how we need reliable hope and that this is found only in Christ, who according to the Letter to the Hebrews Jesus “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8). The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present, and shall come in the future. He embraces all of time’s dimensions. Because he died and rose, he is the ‘Living’, and whilst he shared our human precariousness, he is always there, offering us God’s stability. He is “flesh” like us, and “rock” like God. Anyone who yearns for freedom, justice, and peace can stand erect and raise his head because in Christ redemption is at hand (cf Lk, 21:28).”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope.   (Romans 15:13)

As I prepare for a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow with my family and a few days of company to follow, I couldn't let this special holiday go by without wishing everyone a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving! I baked a homemade carrot cake last night for the first time, taking the advice of The Anchoress, who says the recipe is the best. I hope so, I love carrot cake. Today I spent the day preparing my famous rice balls and I will fry them tomorrow. My aunt has done some cooking too and she will bring some Italian dishes as well. 
We have so much to be thankful for. Gratitude and feelings of gratitude are good for us. Tomorrow I'll ask everyone around the dining room table to express what they are grateful for. It's something we do each year. 
I find it interesting that-"Research consistently finds that regularly expressing gratitude is good for our overall well-being; People who do so are healthier, more successful in reaching their goals, more optimistic and more inclined to help others" (Parenting Magazine-11/09). I find that amazing that there are so many benefits just from being a grateful person and expressing gratitude. 
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California and author of the book, "Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier," says that gratitude doesn't have to be spontaneous or natural. "Act grateful and you'll soon start feeling it." 
Each day try to spend a few moments thinking about what you are grateful for, say it to yourself, say it to others or write it down. It's a simple enough way to feel happier and more at peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Art, Love and Creativity

On Saturday, Pope Benedict invited 250 internationally famous artists to the Sistine Chapel and addressed them by saying that he wished to "express and renew the Church's friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognized the value of the arts...........
I love the artwork in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a genius, (obviously!) and a great Renaissance artist. He apparently complained a lot while painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but it is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Years later he was commissioned to paint the Last Judgment (1534-1541) on the altar wall of the chapel as a warning about the frailty of life and the Universe. My last visit to Vatican City was in the year 2000. I think every Catholic should see Rome and the Vatican before they die. It should be on everyone's "bucket list." 
I went, with my family, to Central Park in Manhattan in 2005 to see, "The Gates," the art display in the park made up of 7,503 vinyl gates with nylon panels. It attracted more than five million people during the two weeks it was exhibited. It was most impressive and unique. Sadly, last Wednesday, Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband Christo on "The Gates" died at the age of 74. In an interview in 2002, she said, "We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful...The only way to see it is to build it. Like every artist, every true artist, we create them for us."
Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying, "The Gates was one of the most exciting public art projects ever put on anywhere in the world-and it would never have happened without Jeanne-Claude." What a great tribute to an artist. What an amazing artistic couple. Her death must be a great loss to her husband, Christo. May she rest in peace and beauty. 

Genius is eternal patience

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walk Off Your Stress

These are stressful times. Though the economy seems to be improving, there are still too many people out of work and too much anxiety over the future.  Prayer and meditation (such as Centering Prayer) can be a tremendous help in reducing stress and giving one a sense of well-being.  But exercise is also very important. Stress weakens our immune system and can even cause  narrowing of the arteries of the heart. Stress is also associated with depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the No. 1 cause of suicide. (Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens.)

A simple solution to help alleviate stress ( and it doesn’t cost anything) is a walking regimen.  There are many stress- busting benefits of walking. Brisk walking has the “power to calm jangled nerves and improve bad moods." According to an online article, A Step Ahead of Stress, at, brisk walking “done every day, can enhance self-esteem and combat depression. Research has shown that a brisk 20-30 minute walk can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer……….Why is walking or any physical activity a stress reducer? Many experts cite its ability to trigger the release of endorphins, potent brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation." There is also a technique to walk and meditate at the same time. It combines low-intensity walking and a simple meditation technique. All you have to do is pay attention to your footsteps, counting, “one, two, one, two” while visualizing each number in your mind as you walk. If your mind drifts, just go back to the counting. It sounds easy enough. It’s something I’m going to try. Apparently, low intensity walking combined with meditation produced impressive results.

Apparently, according to the article, brisk walking, meditative walking or mindful exercise (such as tai chi), worked very quickly to reduce stress. It’s worth a try, if you’re stressed or just to improve your overall health.      NJA

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Earthly Matters & Extraterrestrial Matter

I was very impressed when administrators from the Brooklyn Museum contacted me via e-mail, after they read my last blog entry, which was about my visit to the museum. There was a response to a comment I made on my blog. The extraordinary exhibit that I saw was, The Life of Christ, watercolors by James Tissot, which you can see at the museum until mid-January. I commented on my blog that I was surprised that the beautiful,  deeply moving watercolors depicting scenes from the New Testament are exhibited so infrequently. 
To my surprise an e-mail response was forwarded to me, with an explanation from Arnold L. Lehman, who is the Director of the museum. His explanation was that "Watercolors are an extremely fragile medium and sensitive to the light. For this reason, watercolors are seldom in view in public collections. In the case of the Tissot watercolors, it has been more than 20 years since they were exhibited." He went on to say that it is important for them to be preserved for future generations. I was very pleased and it was unexpected that the Director of the museum would read my blog and respond. 
From the exhibition catalogue, I learned that this remarkable body of artwork will be going on tour,  so we will be hearing more about his collection in the future. The depictions of St. Mary Magdelene are unique. 

On Matters Extraterrestrial............
I read with interest the numerous news reports about the "Vatican calling in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implications for the Catholic Church. The comments of Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, S.J.,- an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory, were interesting. "The questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration......the possibility of alien life raises 'many philosophical and theological implications'......."
In an interview he gave last year, Funes told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God. 'How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?....Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom.......if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered 'part of creation.'" 
I found these comments fascinating. I don't disagree with Fr. Funes, but I really believe that if aliens were "observing" humankind, I don't think we have to worry about them making contact. As a matter of fact, intelligent beings (anyone locating us in the Milky Way Galaxy would be intelligent), I think they would study us from afar and move on........Intelligent alien beings would probably sense the fact that the 'hand of a Creator,' a "hidden" Supreme Being,  was at work in the beauty, order and diversity on our planet, and in the Universe,  that's obvious enough.  

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two Very Different Exhibits in Brooklyn

Which current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum do you think had more viewers this past weekend, James Tissot's Life of Christ or Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present? If you guessed the Rock and Roll exhibit, you were correct. The Rock and Roll exhibit was very crowded. And it was interesting, especially is you like photographs, which I do. My son and his girlfriend wanted to see that exhibit too. 
James Tissot's watercolors of the Life of Christ are amazing and a must see exhibit for Christians. I expected it to be more crowded than it was. Hopefully it will catch on, it is something to see. I was thrilled that my son bought me the exhibition book, which I wanted and is a fabulous book which contains 350 prints of the paintings. 
The Tablet, Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper published an article recently about the exhibit. It's well worth a trip to the museum. 
James Tissot (1836-1902), was a French society painter and a Catholic. During a visit to St. Sulpice he had a religious experience during Mass when the priest raised the host. "After several sleepless nights, Tissot feverishly painted 'Inward Voices,' a monumental image of his vision that depicts a bloodied but luminous Christ comforting the tattered poor in the rubble of a devastated building." He then dedicated himself to the ten year project of a series of 350 watercolors illustrating the New Testament from Jesus' birth to the Resurrection. His portrayals of St. Mary Magdalene are beautiful and he painted Mary Magdalene Before Her Conversion and The Repentant Magdalene.
An especially impressive painting is titled, What Our Lord Saw From the Cross, a unique piece which tries to depict what Jesus saw from the Cross.  
The Brooklyn Museum purchased this collection of watercolors in 1900 for $60,000. They don't show the paintings often and I'm not sure why, they are too brilliant to be hidden away, in my opinion. They are truly magnificent works of religious art, with fine details and historical accuracy in depicting the clothing of biblical figures and the landscape. (For the undertaking, he traveled to Palestine in the 1800's to study.) 
I find it strange that I was born, raised and lived most of my life in Brooklyn and I never heard of James Tissot or these watercolors. 
The Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday. There is parking in the back of the museum. If you want to see a sampling of the watercolors you can go to the museum website. For more information-

Also, Congratulations to the New York Yankees on winning the World Series-I like all New York teams and I'm happy when anyone of them win. The quote below is a good one, on the power of prayer, spoken after the team won the World Series--

I've got a lot of people praying for me continuously!"  Andy Pettitte- Starting Pitcher

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saintly Business

I read an interesting online article at Daily Finance titled, "A Question for the Holiday Season:Which Saint has the Best Cash Flow?" by Bruce Watson. I have a great admiration, interest and love for the Saints, which is why I have so many books about the lives of saints and their writings. The writer of the article started thinking about "top-earning saints" after Forbes magazine released a list of top earning dead celebrities ( Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Rogers and Hammerstein). 
So, in his opinion and from what he's gathered from research, he wrote the following. "With All Saint's Day 2009 finally here, we decided to take a peek at the Christian saints who continue to inspire devotion--and yes, cash flow-long after their passage into the great beyond." The most popular Saint according to the writer must be Mary, the Mother of God. "In addition to direct veneration of the Virgin Mary, which inspires sales of numerous medals, statues, candles, scapulars and other items, her visitations in Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje and Guadalupe continue to draw devoted pilgrims from around the world. She has been the subject of thousands of books and pamphlets and her likeness adorns an almost infinite array of items. " That is certainly true. On the desk where my computer is, I have a paperweight with an image of Mary surrounded by angels. It was gift for a donation I made years ago. I never gave it much thought until now, but Mary is "close to me" as I write this blog entry and all the others too.  I also have numerous Marian books, pamphlets, statues etc. Some I purchased and some were gifts. 
What about profitable films about saints? There have been many popular movies about St. Bernadette, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Beckett, Oscar Romero and the most popular St. Joan of Arc. She is the central figure of at least 16 films. Interestingly, the first Joan of Arc movie was produced in 1895, at the beginning of the film industry. The most recent movie, about St. Joan was The Messenger which grossed over $14 million in the U.S. 
St. Christopher is still popular with the faithful.  St. Christopher is still venerated and as pointed out in the article, "His close association with travel makes St. Christopher one of the few religious figures whose medals can be purchased in auto parts stores."
St. Joseph statues are big business. As most everyone knows, people are planting statues of St. Joseph in their front lawns in the hope of getting a "saintly advantage" in trying to sell their homes. If you google St. Joseph's name, many sites come up titled, "The Home Sellers Statue Kit for St. Joseph." You can't make this stuff up!
And then there is the association with St. Valentine and Valentine's Day. Though a lot of confusion surrounds the identity of the saint connected to Valentine's Day, it is a very profitable holiday for Hallmark as well as candy manufacturers. 
And then there is St. Nick. His popularity is without question. It's difficult to get Christians to reflect on the true meaning of the Incarnation and Christmas with all the Christmas hype and materialism. It's hard not to get caught up in it. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Great Jesuit Insight-For A Saint

I recently attended a talk on Long Island given by Fr. Donald Haggerty, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and a Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, NY. The talk was about Mother Teresa's private letters which were compiled into a book titled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday). The following excerpt is from an article which appeared in the Long Island Catholic,  written by Mary Gorry, a reporter who also attended the talk.  
I quote from the article, Mother Teresa's 'dark night' inspires LI Catholics, from the Long Island Catholic...........
According to Fr. Haggerty, "The 'dark night of the soul' the longing for God from which Mother Teresa apparently suffered for many years was not a loss of faith, but an experience she came to accept as uniting her with both Jesus' Passion and the suffering of the poor she served in India....The writings disclose a long period of interior spiritual suffering, or what mystical theologians such as St. John of the Cross refer to as 'the dark night of the soul,' Fr. Haggerty explained...........During this time, Mother Teresa wrote letters to many priests documenting her suffering. 'There is such a deep loneliness in my heart...How long will our Lord stay away?'
We keep hearing that combined element, noted Fr. Haggerty, 'the desolation and at the same time the great longing for God. That is a very significant sign that this is not a person diminishing in faith.' Some of the commentary in the media after the book came out was poorly done. The New York Times noted how 'isn't it wonderful all the good Mother Teresa did after she lost her faith. She's experiencing a great darkness, but still intensely longing for God.' In 1959, Mother Teresa met Fr. Joseph Neuner, a Jesuit priest who finally offered her some insight into what she was experiencing. Until this point, nobody really helped her.... Mother Teresa wrote to Fr. Neuner, 'I can't express in words the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me. For the first time in 11 years, I have come to love the 'darkness' for I believe now that it is a very, very small part of Jesus' own darkness and pain on Earth....Fr. Haggerty continued, 'She now understood that Jesus wanted to unite her with the poorest of the poor. He wanted her to know what it was like to be unwanted and thrown away. He did not simply want her to take care of the poor. He wanted her to become herself one of the poorest of the poor.' She wrote to her sisters, 'without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ.'"
The great insight by Jesuit priest, Fr. Neuner must of been a great relief to Mother Teresa. She finally had some understanding of what she was feeling. 
Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order which serves the poor and marginalized throughout the world won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. At the time of her death on Sept. 5th 1997, she had over 4,000 Sisters operating about 600 missions in over 120 countries. In 1999, less than 2 years after Mother Teresa's death, Pope John Paul II waived the 5-year waiting period and opened the cause for her canonization. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 19th, 2003.
Mother Teresa is a modern day saint, who suffered a 'dark night of the soul,' so she would be united to Jesus' Passion and also so that she would be like 'the poorest of the poor,' in her longing.  She continues to bear "great fruit," even after her death. 
For information about the cause for her canonization-
Happy All Saint's Day to all God's friends, who during these difficult and uncertain times, remain bearers of light.

Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.   Blessed Mother Teresa

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards-A Woman of Faith & Courage

I admire men and women who battle setbacks, disappointments, loss and disease with courage and faith. One such woman, Elizabeth Edwards, recently said in an interview, "Cancer will probably win. Why would I give it any more days than it may already take? That's the choice I make." She chooses to focus on living. She believes that, "God will no longer cure her, but God will give her the strength to endure."  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Sadly, the cancer has spread to her bones and is inoperable. She gets chemo treatments each month. 
As everyone knows, she is the wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards. She told WJLA-TV, ABC 7, that she is "busy speaking, writing and pushing for cancer research." She also spends time with her children. She has endured much suffering, disappointment and loss and yet she keeps going forward, trying to make a difference. I believe only people of faith can do that, can survive so many setbacks and still remain faithful to God and prayer. I give her a lot of credit, she is very inspirational. My little setbacks and disappointments in life seem small in comparison, though I have had to deal with the loss of loved ones, so I know first hand how devastating that can be.
There is probably no greater pain a woman can experience than the death of a child and she even endured that. Her eldest son was killed in a car crash in 1996. She said, "Nothing compares to Wade's death. No, not even cancer."
Amidst personal family problems and humiliations, which played out in the media spotlight, which is more difficult, she continues to fight on and display remarkable courage. Faith and belief in God gives people inner strength, courage and resilience. Her latest book is titled, "Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities." It's a book I've put on my reading list.
Her commitment to her marriage, even with all the problems and disappointments is amazing. 
People of faith, who display remarkable courage, deep faith and resilience in the midst of life's trials and challenges give hope to the rest of us. It also convinces me of the benefits of belief, hope, prayer and especially in the belief in the immortality of the soul and eternal life. As if I needed convincing. 

I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul......we can hardly form any conception of the soul's great dignity and beauty. 
St. Teresa of Avila

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Invitation to Anglicans, With A Twist

David Gibson, an online columnist for Politics Daily in a column titled, "The Pope's Anglican Plan: Welcome Mat or Hostile Takeover?" wrote the following, "...Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia did well by choosing Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion, as the man to tweak with a provocative initiative to lure away a good chunk of Williams' flock. The plan, unveiled Tuesday at the Vatican, would allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church without renouncing their Anglican traditions and beliefs. It would offer a tempting sanctuary to traditionalist Anglicans.....The plan represents an extraordinary concession by Rome. Even married clergy could bring their wives along and remain priests (though married bishops could not be Catholic bishops, just ordinary clerics). "
In today's NY Times in an article titled, "Pope's Invitation to Anglicans Raises Prospect of Married Catholic Priests," by Rachel Donadio, a Catholic commentator in London was quoted as saying, "If you get used to the idea of your priests being married, then that changes the perception of the Catholic priesthood necessarily....We face the prospect in the future of going to a Catholic Church in London and it being normal to find a married Catholic priest celebrating at the altar, with his wife sitting in the third pew and his children running up and down the aisle."
Thomas Reese, a Catholic commentator was quoted as saying, "Now we're opening up a whole structure within the Latin rite, within the Western rite, which will allow married priests to function." He goes on to say that this raises a series of interesting questions.
No one knows for sure where this will all go, but I have to give credit to Pope Benedict for a bold move. For those Anglicans who accept the Pope's invitation--Welcome!  
I was in the Tower of London in the summer of 2008. I visited the cells in the Tower where Catholic priests were imprisoned during the English Reformation. Many Catholic priests were tortured and killed during the English Reformation. While in London, I visited and prayed in the convent basement where many of their relics are kept. The Tyburn Convent which is home to Benedictine Sisters is a convent/monastery in London where the Sisters live, pray and are caretakers for the relics. It was fascinating to learn about, but very sad. 
And so now, this bridge of unity between the Anglicans and the Catholics, who were at one time in history enemies. Many suffered for that division, much pain and yet now hundreds of years later Pope Benedict brings some healing and an invitation. I view this as a sign of hope. 
To learn more about Tyburn, go to:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Inner And Outer Beauty

According to Scripture, we are made in the image and likeness of God and we have inherent self-worth and value because we are children of God and loved by God. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be honored as such. In St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians he states, "Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Cor. 13:5) Those of us who realize this truth and live our lives based on it are blessed and have a lot to be grateful for.
If you truly believe that you have self-worth and value as a child of God, no amount of negativity that comes your way in life,  can affect your self-esteem or self-worth. It's important for children, teens and adults to truly believe in their worth and dignity as children of God. Internet bullying, gossip and exaggerations are thriving today through modern forms of communication and it can be harmful. 
I started to think about this topic of inner and outer beauty because of an experience I had recently. Inner beauty and goodness are important to a lot of people in the modern world, (not everyone, of course), but outer beauty and youth count too. Baby boomers don't want to grow old, most of them anyway and some of them are spending lots of money on preserving their youth. I attended a meeting of a women's group I belong to and the informational part of the meeting was about non-surgical ways to look younger. I have to admit I was fascinated with the presentation. The presentation by a plastic surgeon included a demonstration of using a "filler" on a volunteer. The patient agreed to have a "filler" injected into her face at the meeting, to show those of us present how it works. It was rather amazing as wrinkles and laugh lines started to disappear immediately on her face, before our curious eyes.  
I bring this up because it's an interesting phenomena in the modern world, the desire to stay young looking. According to the plastic surgeon, these products are "flying off his shelf." Pretty amazing, I think, especially in these economic times.  
So think about it. What does it take to have inner beauty and goodness? What are the choices that you have to make? What does it cost to preserve youthfulness? And if you have inner beauty and goodness, doesn't that show on your face? Doesn't kindness and goodness come through in how you look?.......I think it does. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

One of My Favorites

I just can't let today go by without mentioning that it's the feast day of the great St. Teresa of Avila. One of my favorite saints, she was a most remarkable woman. 
"Teresa was a woman 'for God,' a woman of prayer, discipline and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her own conversion was no overnight affair; it was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful....and in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful-a woman of prayer-a woman for God." (from
What else could such an extraordinary, gifted woman of God do, but cling to God. My favorite prayer of late is just simply, "Jesus be near to me." That sums it all up for me.

Her famous words of comfort and prayer-

Let nothing trouble you
Let nothing frighten you
All is fleeting, God alone is unchanging
Patience obtains everything
Who possesses God
Wants nothing, for God alone is enough
St. Teresa of Avila-Saint and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

365 Days Of.......

I loved the movie Julie and Julia, the comedy-drama film written and directed by Nora Ephron. It's based on two true stories.  In case you haven't seen it, it's the story of the adventures of the famous chef, Julia Child, while she lived in France with her husband. It shows her culinary experiences there. It also shows the modern life of a writer/blogger, Julie Powell from Queens who decides to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's cookbook in one year and blog about it. She does it in a small kitchen apartment in Queens and gets it done (with a few temper tantrums). Julie Powell becomes famous from the blog and gets a book deal. 
Julia Child, in her own day, also became a very famous chef, cookbook author and a TV personality. 
In any event, I started thinking about the movie, when I saw a recent article in the NY Times titled, A Quest to Read a Book a Day for 365 Days-Just for fun. The article tells about Nina Sankovitch's idea to read a book everyday for a year and review them on her blog,  Ms. Sankovitch reads fast (no doubt) but does not speed read. "Aside from the pleasure of it, Ms. Sankovitch had other goals-inspiring a love of books in others and finding her way through a period of sorrow and soul-searching brought on by the death of her sister in 2005...I've always thought great literature is all one needs to read to understand human psychology, emotions, even history...."
So I started to think about it, is there anything I do everyday-365 days a year? Besides the necessary chores which I'm compelled to do each day, there aren't too many things that I do every single day.  Call it a habit, a virtue or a necessary part of my life- the thing I do each day-365 days a year, is pray. Couldn't live without it. I also drink tea every day and read the newspapers. But prayer is for me a great comfort and I'm very grateful for Magnificat, the daily missal, which is a great prayer aid. So what do I have to show for so much prayer, over so many years? I have a lot to show for it.  Many blessings, many graces and a deep trust in God and God's word. Of course, there are times, like everyone else experiences, when I can't understand certain aspects of my spiritual journey. However,  I do know that God walks with me and my prayers are heard and bear fruit in time, in God's time. Daily prayer gives me that inner strength and courage and helps me to view life and situations with "eyes of faith." 
I have no desire to cook a new recipe every day of the year, or read an entire book each day for a year, but I do have a desire and need to pray every day and connect with God. And having found this great treasure of prayer, I would recommend it to everyone-365 days a year. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Resilient & Religious

In a recent, very interesting article in AARP titled, The Secrets of Resilient People by Beth Howard, resilient people are compared to trees in the wind, "They bend in the wind, they bounce back" (according to Steven Southwick, M.D.). Resilience is defined as the "ability to rebound quickly from a crisis or trauma." Resiliency has been studied a lot because of current disasters and the economic downturn. "Scientists agree that resilience varies from person to person and has a genetic component-recent studies show that certain genes may protect you against the emotional back draft of trauma. 'Some people are naturally more resilient,' "says Robert Brooks, Ph.D. and clinical professor at Harvard.  Interestingly, resilience can be learned. Resilient people share certain common qualities and when a crisis hits, you can depend on these qualities or behaviors.
Before I read further into the article, I knew from experience and my studies that one quality or belief that can be cultivated and nurtured to help people become more resilient would be faith and belief in God. I knew it and so I wasn't surprised when it was mentioned in the article. 
As stated, "Generally people who are active in a religious faith tend to get through difficult times better," says Al Siebert, Ph.D. and author of The Resiliency Advantage. "A Duke University study concluded that people with serious medical conditions who had strong religious convictions and participated in religious activities were less likely to be waylaid by depression. When these patients did become depressed, the depression lifted sooner than it did for less religious people."
More proof that faith, belief in God, prayer and belonging to a faith community is good for your overall health and necessary "medicine" for your mind, body and soul. 
Another good point, "Resilient people convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity.......They see negative events as an opportunity to better themselves or become better people.
My deep faith and prayer life has enabled me to overcome many obstacles and experiences of loss in my life. I can't imagine how anyone without faith and belief is able to deal with life's challenges and difficulties. I'm very grateful that I was raised with faith and that I nurtured it throughout my life.

To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only plan but also believe.      Anatole France

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hopelessness Is Bad For Your Health

Hopelessness is bad for your health. And it's not too good for your soul either. According to a new study, a "depressed, emotional state-feelings of hopelessness and apathy could have a direct effect on your physical health." A study of stroke survivors found a slower rate of recovery among those experiencing apathy, caring little about themselves and the world around them. Also, a study of healthy middle-aged women found an association between hopelessness and unexpected thickening of the carotid artery, the main blood vessel to the brain. A thickening of this artery can cause a stroke. These findings were reported in the Aug. 27th issue of Stroke. 
Depression, feelings of hopelessness and stress do have physical affects. Many studies support that view. 
There are also numerous studies, which I have read over the years which support the belief that prayer, belief in God, religious rituals and belonging to a faith community gives people hope, it takes away hopelessness, alienation and apathy. That's why people who refuse to believe or take advantage of the many benefits of belief and prayer cause me confusion. Christians as well as believers of other faiths have hope in a God who loves us and cares for us. Our God is a God of hope, a God who can bring good out of bad and bring hope and healing to the most difficult situations. Sometimes we have to be patient, for God's ways and actions cannot be comprehended,  at times we can get a glimpse of God working in our world.  
In these uncertain times we're living through, I don't think there are more important attitudes to have than hope, optimism and trust in God. I'm not sure how people can live without them. They are obviously good for your physical health, good for your soul and good for your relationship with God and others. 
Many people are filled with anxieties and fears, there is a lot to worry about, especially if you have a tendency to worry. But with God all things are possible, with God and through prayer and perseverance, "All will be well," in the words of Julian of Norwich. I believe that, I've seen it work over and over again. God is a God of hope, not despair and anyone who distances themselves from God's love or hope is foolish, in my opinion. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Little Flower

Today is the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, as she called herself. I have a great devotion to St. Therese and it was a blessing this morning to be able to share with a group of women a relic I have of St. Therese. Given to me by my good friend, Anne, it is a relic of a small piece of St. Therese's brown Carmelite habit. I actually have two relics of St. Therese. One I received as a gift and the other one I sent to Rome for. 
Interesting information about the spiritual classic, "The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux-The Story of A Soul," appears in the introduction to John Beever's translation of the book,  In the first 12 years, forty-seven thousand copies were sold. Between 1910 and 1915 a hundred and sixty-four thousand copies were brought. Today millions of copies have spread throughout the world and it has been translated into 38 languages (probably more by now). It is the great best-seller of this century. Yet at first sight there is nothing extraordinary about it, nothing to warrant this phenomenal success. The Story of a Soul is not a great literary work. As literature it cannot be compared with St. Augustine's Confessions, with St. Teresa's autobiography (St. Teresa of Avila) or with St. Francis de Sales's Introduction to a Devout Life......Once read it cannot be forgotten. And the range of its appeal is tremendous: simple, ill-educated people and great scholars read it. It is a book which moves peasants and popes. Men and women of every race and of every kind of intelligence and education succumb to its spell...Yet it is a great book, an unforgettable book and a book whose influence deepens and widens every year.  We go wrong, I think, because we judge it by normal and natural standards. But it is not a normal or a natural book. It is abnormal because it is a supernatural book. In the words of Pius XI, St. Therese 'attained to the knowledge of supernatural things in such abundant measure that she was able to point out the sure way of salvation to others.'
She called her doctrine 'the little way of spiritual childhood,' and it is based on complete and unshakeable confidence in God's love for us.
Happy Feast Day to all Carmelites and all others too!

I desire, in a word, to be a saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg you, O my God to be yourself my sanctity.
St. Therese of Lisieux- Died at the young age of 24-She is the youngest Doctor of the Church

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Age of the Nones

None, nothing, no belief, no faith, no religious affiliation, not a thing. Some of  these "nones" are agnostic,  perhaps some are affiliated with the "new atheism." Internet articles like the one I read by Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish, make me quite upset. The blog titled,  "The Coming Age of the Nones," should be a wake-up call for the Church.  Here's why......according to the article, "In 1990, 8 percent of Americans reported that they had no religious beliefs. Twenty years later, that's 15 percent. But when you look at younger Americans, you see that the proportion of "nones" is reaching 22 percent. The 1990s were the boom years for the Nones; and a huge 35 percent of the new Nones are ex-Catholics." I wonder, can that statistic be true? That's scary. 
Andrew Sullivan gives some reasons why he thinks agnostics are a growing phenomena and he says "these agnostics do not dismiss the religious life but remain at a cool distance from it."
According to Barry Kosmin, director of Trinity's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, "It's a kind of religious indifference that's not hostile to religion the way they are in France." 
"The study estimates that in 20 years, the Nones will make up 25 percent of Americans."He gives the political breakdown, which he calls fascinating. 
"The Nones are not wealthier than average, but they are more male. Almost 20 percent of American men are Nones, compared with 12 percent of women."
I hope and pray that the Church will take this study and ones like it seriously. Modernism, secularism, consumerism and "the new atheism," are apparently taking a toll on belief in God. 
Something needs to be done- a creative, modern, realistic, practical approach to help people realize the benefits of spirituality, religious affiliation, prayer and belief in God. 
If you'd like to read the entire article here's the link- 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mary's Shrine in DC & Christ in Majesty

I recently received Mary's Shrine, a newsletter from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The color newsletter is informative and gives a lot of information about the Shrine, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Shrine this year. This National Marian Shrine and pilgrimage Church is dedicated to Mary and peoples from countries around the world. It has over 70 chapels and oratories. I visited this magnificent Church a few years ago, while in Washington, DC. My cousins live nearby in Virginia and I was asked to be a Confirmation sponsor, so my husband and I made the trip to Virginia for the Confirmation Mass. We also visited the Shrine during that trip, with my cousins. 
But getting back to the newsletter, I was happy to see a picture of Fr. Vito Buonanno, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who is the new Director of Pilgrimages, in the newsletter. He's standing with Msgr. Rossi, who is the Rector of the Shrine. I sent a letter to Msgr. Rossi, after visiting the Shrine, but I'll mention that later in this blog, because looking back on it, it's rather funny. Anyhow, Fr. Vito looks happy in the photograph. I know Fr. Vito, from the Diocese of Brooklyn, he's a wonderful priest, with a good sense of humor. He served as an Interim and then as an Associate Director of Liturgy for many years, in the Brooklyn Diocese and also as pastor of Ascension Parish in Queens. He's a good choice for the Director of Pilgrimages and I know he'll be great in that position. 
Getting back to my visit to the Shrine. I met Fr. Holcomb, the previous Director of Pilgrimages while I was there and I introduced him to my family. I didn't know him before arriving at the Shrine, but he happened to be in his office and so we all said hello.
After arriving home, I sent Msgr. Rossi, the rector, a letter. Something bothered me about the Shrine, so I thought I would write him about it. At the Shrine, dominating the North Apse of the Great Upper Church is a Byzantine style mosaic titled, Christ in Majesty. It is one of the largest images of Jesus in the world and it contains more than 4,000 shades and colors. But I had a problem with the mosaic. Jesus looks very angry and stern in the mosaic. Not welcoming at all..............for a Shrine Church, with such significance and as a place of pilgrimage.... it upset me that Jesus looked so angry and that's what I wrote to Msgr. Rossi. He wrote back to me, explaining that it was suppose to show Jesus' power and might and that is how he is often depicted in Byzantine style art. It was nice of him to respond to my letter, but I still felt that for so important a piece of artwork, in such a prime location in the Shrine, a gentle, loving Jesus would be more effective.  So that's my story about the mosaic, Christ in Majesty. 
After receiving the letter from Msgr. Rossi, I mailed it to my cousins in Virginia and they thought the whole thing was very funny. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Deepening Faith-Building Good Character

Every human being is intended to have a character of his own: to be what no others are and to do what no other can do.   William Channing

One spiritual writer put it this way (and I paraphrase), "The world doesn't need another Mother Teresa, the world needs you to be the best you can be and reach your full potential." I would add- to develop your gifts and talents, be united to God's will for you and do good. 
I gave a talk last night to parents to try to help them understand and remind them of the importance of deepening faith in their children and intentionally fostering their spiritual and religious development. I love when I give a talk and parents come up to me afterwards and say, "We needed to hear that, to be reminded of that." The suggestions I give them, which I've been gathering from books I've read such as "52 Simple Ways To Talk With Your Kids About Faith-Opportunities for Catholic Families to Share God's Love," by Jim Campbell make good sense to them, they know instinctively these suggestions will be good for their children. 
The problem is today children are involved in many extra-curricular activities such as sports and it is difficult for the most well meaning parents to fit everything in. 
I know what parents want for their children, they are the same things I wanted for my children. We want our children to be well-adjusted, successful, kind, compassionate human beings who are drawn to good, and lead fulfilling lives. Instilling Christian values in children fosters positive human development. It works, I know it, I've lived it. I've read the studies too, but I place a high value on experience as well. 
Children and adults need balance in their lives, especially in these hectic, fast-paced times we're living through. We all need time for quiet, solitude, rest, prayer and a relationship with God. It's healthy and necessary. I love to connect with Catholic parents, to feel they are in agreement with what I'm saying to them. Parents today need to be reminded of the value and importance of religious instruction and prayer and the benefits of giving their children faith experiences. 

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Reasons To Believe" Conference

I attended the "Reasons To Believe" Conference at Kellenberg HS on Long Island on Saturday. It was the first time I heard Dr. Scott Hahn speak and he was excellent. He gave three talks. (Fr. Anthony Stanganelli gave the opening talk and he was very good too.) Scott Hahn, who was formerly a Presbyterian minister before converting to Catholicism spoke about his faith journey and conversion. He used humor, at times, which was uplifting and he also used stories to convey that it seems all his studying, learning and knowledge of Scripture brought him to the Catholic religion. He explained that he read the Sunday homilies of the Early Church Fathers as a Presbyterian minister to help him write sermons. It was through those studies that he came to see and believe in Catholic truths. He came to see that the understanding of the Bible and the homilies that the Church Fathers wrote, explaining how the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament was a revelation for him. It was an understanding and explanation of biblical truths that he couldn't dismiss. He began to see Catholic rituals in a different light and the truths of the Catholic faith became evident to him. Over time, after attending Mass (while he was still a Presbyterian minister), he came to appreciate the beauty, depth and the sacredness of the Catholic Mass and it transformed him. He was astounded by connections he saw to the Mass and the Book of Revelation. He felt like he was experiencing the heavenly Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation. He began to see and experience the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and there was no turning back. He was married to a Presbyterian woman, the daughter of a minister and so he had a lot of explaining to do to his wife. Ultimately, she converted too, but it took some time. They have six children. It's a great story of faith and the complexities of belief and conversion. 
He had many good stories of how God worked in his life and brought him to where he is today. He's a best selling author, lecturer and he has an amazing understanding of Scripture, (he learned much from the Church Fathers), and years of studying, which he conveyed very well.
All in all, it was a successful day. There were hundreds of people in attendence, all there trying to deepen their knowledge of God, the Bible and Catholicism. 
There were some vendors at the Conference as well.  I purchased a CD, titled, "Unlocking the Book of Revelation," from Lighthouse Catholic Media. I'm very impressed that they sell CD's for the reasonable price of $3.00. They even have a CD of the month club. Their website I've bought their CD's before and given them as gifts. 
The ticket price of $10.00 was a real bargain. Though you had to bring your own lunch, it was still a great value (4 excellent talks for $10.00). And as always, the "staff" at Kellenberg HS ensures that everything runs smoothly. 
Offering Catholic conferences (with dynamic speakers) at low cost is great for evangelization and for building faith and knowledge. "If you build it, they will come." 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Hype About 2012

As you've probably heard by now a lot of people (mostly New Age thinkers, but some Christians too), think some form of apocalyptic event might possibly happen in the year 2012. People who study "ancient, New Age" writings and prophecies claim that this date surfaces in different prophecies in end time writings (or at least that's their interpretation). According to information I read,  some people believe the Mayan calendar (since when do calendars tell the future) will end in 2012, fueling this kind of end time furor, but most scholars dispute that claim. Other people believe that there will be a positive spiritual transformation in 2012 and the beginning of a new era. 
An apocalyptic movie is coming out called 2012. The History Channel with a number of "documentaries," on the end times and doomsday prophecies is also contributing to this interest in 2012. They began airing shows in 2006, with "Decoding the Past, Mayan Doomsday Prophecy," and most recently "Nostradamus 2012." A Catholic recently asked me what I thought about this, as he's watched the shows on the History Channel and believes at least some part of the hype. Some people are unnerved by these shows, so I'm hoping there will be a creative Catholic response to all these false predictions, perhaps on Currents and in Catholic newspapers. 
One critic of the History Channel said this, "These shows have been characterized as 45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism." That is true, but the problem is, people are watching these shows. People are thinking about these predictions. 
So as Christians what are we to think? Of course we know that Jesus said no one knows the day or hour when He will return in glory. I recently quoted this Scripture in another blog entry, But of that hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father alone.....Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...So too you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
But what if? Are you ready? If the Earth should undergo some cataclysmic event in 2012, (highly unlikely), are you ready spiritually? Are you where you want to be in your relationship with God? This is all hype but it doesn't hurt to reassess our relationship with God and our intentions for spiritual growth, once in awhile.  
Oh, by the way, the only thing that I could find out from reading information from the scientific community is that, according to NASA, there will be increased solar activity between 2010-2012 (it's called solar maximum), but that should only effect satellites and cell phone communications. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Birth of Mary

Birthday celebrations bring happiness to the celebrant as well as to family and friends. Next to the birth of Jesus, Mary's birth offers the greatest possible happiness to the world. Each time we celebrate her birth we can confidently hope for an increase of peace in our hearts and in the world at large.
(From of the Day-a valuable resource, concise and informative.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Undermines Faith?

New York Newsday newspaper has a weekly faith question that is asked of clergy and ministers. A recent question was, "What Most Undermines Faith Today?" Here is a sampling of the answers. I think it's worth repeating here, since this is a big problem today for most clergy, ministers, nuns, deacons and laypeople who are trying to evangelize and "convince" people (most especially teens and young adults) that faith, religion, prayer and worship are important for children and adults in the fast-paced, anxiety-filled, modern world we live in. I believe it's absolutely necessary for a well balanced, fulfilling and enriched life.
So here are some of the answers-from Rabbi Bennett Hermann, Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach, NY, (living in Long Beach, the city by the sea probably gives this Rabbi plenty of time to reflect near the seashore)-I personally believe that our age has gone overboard in its almost absolute allegiance to the scientific method and to technological advancement. We tend to believe and worship only that which we can scientifically prove. Whatever happened to our relationship to the spiritual-to that which we cannot see but to which we can feel within the depths of our hearts and souls. Love your neighbor as yourself; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. What will it take to return us to the faith of our fathers and mothers-to believe in the one and living God....."
Dr. Anila Midha, president of the India Association of Long Island in Jericho wrote this, There are so many distractions these days with computer technology and other forms of communication. We spend so much time communicating with others that we don't take time to communicate with God. You see people with iPods, iPhones, using the Internet and other devices that they don't have time left to think about God and pray......."
A Protestant Pastor, James Steffens, from East Northport wrote the following and I think this is a major problem, As many people as there are, there are that many hindrances to maintaining an active faith. But if I were going to pick one, I think the main culprit undermining a vibrant relationship with God is over-commitment....People are taking on extra hours or working two jobs. ..By the time we get through paying for all our stuff, there's little left. And then we take that time and cram it with school activities, Little League, dance recitals........God gets the scraps that may be left over......Ultimately our souls and the souls of our families are more important than anything else. 
Yes, he's absolutely right, over-commitment is a big problem which keeps individuals and families with so much to do, there is little time left for prayer, worship and reflection.  Some people make it a priority and they try very hard to keep the discipline. It's not easy. 
Prayer has a calming effect on my soul and being. Worshipping God at Mass and receiving Eucharist fills me with peace and nourishment and helps me to live in this fallen world. I personally could not do without it, it's a part of who I am and it enriches my life. I can't even imagine life without faith, prayer or worship. I can't imagine ever missing Mass on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I would feel as if I missed something of utmost importance for my well being. And also I feel called to worship God at Mass. 
Parents are trying to do their best but it's difficult to fit everything in a schedule. All of the activities that their children do: sports, music, entertainment, dance, etc. are, of course, important and rewarding but so is their spiritual development.
We have to reconvince people that giving time to their faith and spiritual development is important and time well spent.  Somehow in the modern world, people are losing a sense of that and it worries me.
(By the way, sometimes a Catholic priest or layperson who works for the Church is asked to respond to a faith question in the newspaper, but for this particular question, they didn't have such a response or I would have listed it.)

Enjoy the beautiful Labor Day Weekend! 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Homeless Blogger Gets An Internship

I thought this was an uplifting story. A homeless blogger, Brianna Karp (known as "Bri,") managed to get an internship with Elle magazine. The writer is from Orange County and she posts about her homeless situation on her blog, "The Girls Guide to Homelessness." She wrote about her experience on her blog, telling the story of how she entered a fashion advice contest in April, which landed her an audition for a reality show. The reality show prize was an internship with Elle. She would have been mentored by the magazine's advice columnist, E. Jean Carroll. (This story was also mentioned on the web Though she didn't do well, she wrote that, "I totally bombed it," she didn't give up. I admire determination and perseverance and that's what Bri had. She wrote a letter to Carroll hoping for a second chance. And what happened next is proof that perseverance pays off. Elle magazine offered her a four-month internship and posted a response in their magazine. The internship starts on Sept. 1st. As you can imagine this story has received a lot of media attention.
She said that, "the media storm she's experienced since the story broke has been very humbling." I quote her, "I am an educated woman with stable employment and residence history. I have never done drugs. I am not mentally ill. I am a career executive assistant-coherent, opinionated, poised and capable. If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't assume that I live in a parking lot. In short, I am just like you-except without the convenience of a permanent address." She lives in a parking lot, it's hard to believe.  I know this is going on in our country and I just can't imagine that it's really happening. 
Hopefully all the publicity will enable Brianna to get a permanent address soon. We don't always think about the homeless people and families in our country who are struggling. They need help and prayers. I always feel better when I make a contribution to Habitat for Humanity. Even a small donation enables them to buy a box of nails that contributes to the building of a small house for a needy family. It's a great cause to support.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without words and never stops-at all. 
Emily Dickinson

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Kennedy Curse-No Such Thing

The Kennedy family has had its share of misfortunes, there is no question about that. This very large Catholic, political family of great wealth and prestige in America has suffered tremendous losses and tragedies. The most recent loss of Edward Kennedy this week, who was a surrogate father to so many of his nieces and nephews as well as a father to his own children, will be greatly missed by so many in his family. The statement issued by his family referred to him as, "the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives...." 
As reported in the New York Times, "In recent years, friends say, Mr. Kennedy had come to lean heavily on his Roman Catholic faith. In eulogizing his mother, Rose Kennedy in 1995, he spoke of the comfort of religious beliefs. 'She sustained us in the saddest times by her faith in God, which was the greatest gift she gave us,' Mr. Kennedy said. He attended Mass every day in the year after his mother's death and continued to attend regularly, often a few times a week."
Edward Kennedy was "the only one of the Kennedy boys who had a semi-knowledge that his end was near." According to a family friend, "There were a lot of joyous moments in the end.....a lot of frankness, a lot of hugging, a lot of emotion."
The Kennedy mystique or the Kennedy myth has captured the imagination of people all over the world. As a child I was fascinated by the presidency of John F. Kennedy and the Camelot days. I was fascinated by Jacqueline Kennedy, her clothes and her stature. I followed the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline and was greatly saddened when John Jr. and his beautiful wife Carolyn and her sister were killed in a plane crash in 1999. 
I've heard over the years the myth or urban legend of the so called Kennedy curse. I don't believe it. On blogs circulating on the internet are myths about this "curse" and stories about its origin. I couldn't believe what I read. Some people actually believe that rabbi's (of all people) put a curse on the Kennedy family. How ridiculous! For all the trials, misfortunes and failures of the Kennedy clan there have been great successes too. The ones I'm most familiar with are: the Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shiver that has so positively impacted disabled people, the vision of the Kennedy brothers and the years of public service of Edward Kennedy. And also Robert Kennedy Jr. and his environmental work, most especially for Riverkeeper, an organization which is restoring the Hudson River. 
Rose Kennedy, the family matriarch was a devout Catholic. She was a daily communicant and a faith-filled woman. She prayed for her family. She endured the tragedies she had to face with faith, courage and the inner strength that faith gives. She buried four of her nine children before she died at the age of 104. Though she suffered, she knew about redemptive suffering, united to Jesus. She believed in eternal life, and a soul that survives bodily death. 
The Kennedy's have remained faithful to their Catholic faith through it all, through the most horrific circumstances and for that they should be praised. I believe they will continue to do good things for the country and for good causes and I hope this ridiculous myth of the Kennedy "curse," will die out.  The younger generations of Kennedy's will prosper and do great things as they move forward, with faith, courage and belief in God and God's mercy. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Carmelite Vocation

Some years ago, I decided to become a Lay Carmelite, a member of the Carmelite religious order, a Third Order member of the Order of Carmelites 
(O. Carms.). It was a big commitment and somewhat time consuming. At the time, my sons were in their teens. I had many obligations. I searched for a chapter that would work for me, with a meeting I could commit to. I tried a few different meetings in the tri-state area and various times, until I found the right fit. I had to study Carmelite spirituality which was fine for me, because one of the reasons I wanted to become a Lay Carmelite was my love of Carmelite spirituality. I had read the sublime mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross and his amazing life story in my 20's. I read the stories and writings of St. Teresa of Avila, (St. Teresa is the only woman who ever reformed a men's religious order. She was quite an extraordinary woman and a close friend of St. John of the Cross). I would later develop a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux and study her writings in depth but that was later. On the day of my profession, my aunt, the Italian matriarch of the family, (who can sometimes get information confused), told relatives that I was "carmelized" that day. Not exactly, it sounded like I had been covered in carmel candy! A Carmelite call is not that sweet. Fulfilling, enriching and a great path to a deep relationship with God, but the sweetness of carmel candy, not really. 
I once heard a Carmelite speaker say that Carmelites can be called to suffer. Suffering is part of the Carmelite vocation-for some. (Yet, Carmelites can produce "great fruit" for the Church while suffering.........St. John of the Cross would be an example. He wrote amazing poetry while imprisoned by his own religious order.) I never look for suffering but realistically it can happen to any of us. Jesus said it would. Suffering is part of the human condition.
I decided that between the Feast of the Assumption and the Feast of the Nativity of Mary was as good a time as any to write about my Carmelite spirituality.
And so that's the story of my Carmelite connection. At a recent Communion Breakfast with the Carmelites, in my chapter, one remark from a former director of the chapter was poignant. She said, "When I look around the room and see the deep spirituality these people have and the goodness in them, it makes me feel like crying." There is a lot of goodness in the Carmelite order. It's a great blessing in my life to be part of the Order. Historically known as the Third Order, the Lay Carmelite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel is made up mainly of lay persons like me. An interesting note about the Carmelites-the Order is named after a mountain range in the Holy Land called Mt. Carmel. Many religious orders are named after a person such as the Franciscans (St. Francis of Assisi), the Dominicans (St. Dominic) and so on. Members of the Third Order can be called Tertiaries, Third Order Carmelites, Secular Carmelites and the most common term-Lay Carmelites.

Prayer is a door that opens up to the mystery of God and at the same time furnishes us with the means of communing with God.  
St. Teresa of Avila-Doctor of the Church

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Falling Trees Everywhere I Look

Some of us in the NY tri-state area experienced a severe thunderstorm on Tuesday night, nearly 100 trees were felled in Central Park and hundreds were damaged. "It was the most severe destruction the park's trees had sustained in decades," said officials from the Department of Parks.... Beautiful, century-old trees were damaged or destroyed such as American elms, horse chestnuts, yellow buttonwoods and others." People can get very attached to certain trees. One man was quoted as saying that, "If you love trees, as we do, it's emotionally upsetting. You have personal relationships with certain trees and now they are gone." "The fast moving storm was described as  microburst or downburst with straight-line winds gusting at 70 miles per hour. It was severe is some parts of the city, unnoticed in others."
Where I live, I noticed it. First of all, I am a night person, which means I like to stay up late and read, write, blog or read blogs, pray and watch the news. (Sometimes I shop too, which is great being able to shop, right from home!)  I like the night, it's quiet and peaceful and so when the storm passed through the area where I live, I heard it. Luckily, it wasn't as violent as other parts of New York. And yet what I didn't know on Tuesday evening was a tree was damaged on our property and would later fall, blocking the street in front of our house.
Nature is so unpredictable like most of life. Severe storms can cause havoc and yet nature can also be beautiful, peaceful and calming for the soul. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reasons To Believe

Dr. Scott Hahn the best-selling Catholic author and a convert to Catholicism is coming to Long Island, NY for a one day conference (comprised of three talks). The title of the conference is “Reasons to Believe,” and will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12th at Kellenberg High School in Uniondale. If you are interested in attending, call Toti Conforti at (516) 385-8963 or e-mail him at

Scott Hahn  entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1986. In his powerful account of what led to his conversion, described in his book, he tells of going to a Catholic Mass, though he was a Protestant minister. In chapter one in,  The Lamb’s Supper-The Mass As Heaven On Earth, he describes how he slipped into Mass in a Catholic chapel in Milwaukee to witness his first Mass as an “academic exercise." He tells that he was impressed with the concentration in prayer that the congregants had. What started as an academic exercise became a revelation for him. I will quote from the book, because it’s a very powerful account and I was very moved by it when I first read it. "As the Mass moved on something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me-in the words of the Mass. One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, ‘Hey can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great.’ Still I maintained my observer status. I remained on the sidelines until I heard the priest pronounce the words of consecration, ‘This is my Body…This is the cup of my blood’………Then I felt all my doubt drain away…………..In less than a minute the phrase ‘Lamb of God’ had rung out four times. From long years of studying the Bible, I knew immediately where I was. I was in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb no less than 28 times in 22 chapters. I was at the marriage feast that John describes at the end of that very last book of the Bible. I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb. I wasn’t ready for this, though – I was at Mass!"

That’s a great story of conversion, revelation, epiphany all in one. I’m excited to hear Scott Hahn speak. It will be the first time I’ve attended one of his conferences. I told Toti (though I’ve never met him) that I would help publicize the event.  So if you’re reading this Toti, I’ve kept my promise.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Distractions in the Modern World

The world is changing quickly. Technology has shaken up plenty of life's routines,but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day. This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation-also known as sleep-people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities. Some children are waking up and checking text messages and facebook posts from friends before they are fully awake and before breakfast. There seems to be a need to be in constant contact with others.  These insights are from a NY Times article titled, "Breakfast Can Wait. The Day's First Stop Is Online," by Brad Stone. One mother complained that, Things that I thought were unacceptable a few years ago are now commonplace in my house, like all four of us starting the day on four computers in four seperate rooms. For some, technology is taking away from quality family time. Some parents are trying to set limits on internet and cellphone use, especially in the morning, so families can eat breakfast together. 
Whenever I speak to parents about deepening faith in their children, I mention how important it is for children (and adults) to say a prayer when they first wake up, even a short prayer, to bring a spiritual, religious dimension to the beginning of their day and focus on God, even if it's for a few minutes. I believe that's helpful for the spiritual development of children. Yet the current news makes you wonder, if the lure of technology is just too tempting and interesting.
The world is changing quickly and in ways I find surprising. There are some trends I find alarming. Another online article I read, was warning parents that children are learning about sex on YouTube. According to the article, children are turning to YouTube, Google and Facebook to learn about sex.  The word "sex" is at the top of search lists. 
Parents have to be very alert and aware, more so now than ever. They have to be rooted in prayer themselves to deal with the challenges of parenting today.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Thin New Yorkers and Modern Day Stress

In a recent New York Times article, Where Thin People Roam, And Sometimes Even Eat, by Anne Barnard, according to a recent study, Manhattan has far thinner people than the rest of the country. It is also the thinnest county in New York State. Some people think one of the reasons people are so thin in Manhattan is they have to walk a lot and climb subway stairs. According to the article, "the borough's richest areas have the lowest obesity rates and, some argue, an obsession with thinness. It seems the "wealthy Manhattanites are afraid of not being able to fit into their expensive clothes," so they work out at gyms regularly and walk a lot. They also want to look good. "Everything is in excess in Manhattan, whether it's how beautiful you are, how thin you are or how hard you work." 
A few blogs ago, I wrote an entry about the benefits of cutting calories and losing weight and how important it is for good health and longevity. Exercise, which helps you lose weight, also reduces stress, which is a big problem in modern society. 
I just read an AOL article that stated more women than ever before are driving while drunk. One comment was that the stress of trying to be superwomen is causing women to drink more. One psychologist stated that she has seen "more excessive drinking, overeating, smoking and drug abuse during the recession." Working mothers who "have an extra burden to be the perfect mothers and perfect wives and perfect daughters and perfect everything." Because of that they have a bigger burden than most men do, according to Carol Goldman, a psychologist.
In my humble opinion, what works for me is I exercise and I pray a lot (prayer is essential to my daily routine and it gives me so many benefits I wouldn't know how to live without it!) I also like to read (and write obviously) and I recently found out that reading is relaxing and a stress reducer (but I already knew that). 
If you have a friend or relative who is stressed, try to help them in some way, even small acts of caring and support mean so much when you're overwhelmed. And pray for them as well.