Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spiritual Direction

Since I've started blogging, I've been reading and checking out other Catholic blogs. It's a very interesting phenomena.  Cardinals, priests, nuns, deacons and laypeople are blogging and there are even lists of Catholic blogs such as one that is maintained at St. Blog's Parish. It's not a real parish but a site which lists all new Catholic blogs and categorizes existing Catholic blogs. 
I came across a very interesting blog which might be helpful to others, especially during Lent. It's called "Catholic Spiritual Direction," and it's written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.  What I especially like about this blog is that you can submit questions about your spiritual quest. According to the site, the blog is very popular and I can imagine why. People who are on a spiritual journey, often have questions and that's why this is a great site, so here is the link below-
Years ago I read an excellent article written by Fr. John Russell, O. Carm., titled Therese of Lisieux and Spiritual Direction. I was very fortunate to take a course on St. Therese from the Carmelite Institute. Fr. Russell was the professor, he is an expert on St. Therese. In his article, he notes that Therese turned to Jesus to be her spiritual director. Calling Jesus her "Director of directors," Fr. Russell wrote that "Therese turned to Jesus Christ as her Director and sought his guidance and affirmation in all the events of her life. That direction would be mediated in various ways, particularly through the Scriptures but also in personal prayer, through the grace of the sacraments and in her discerning reflection on community life as well as through her reading of spiritual masters such as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila....The primary focus of all direction is enabling the directee to deepen in relationship to God."  Quoting Alice McDowell, "At appropriate times, the director should remind the seeker that God or Christ is the true director." 
St. Therese identified Jesus Christ as her spiritual director and I think that's comforting for the many people who don't have a spiritual director. Therese, "through her personal graced experience of faith, hope and love developed a vision of authentic discipleship of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday at the Oratory

I started Lent in an interesting way. I went with my husband to the "town" of Ave Maria, east of Naples, Florida. It's a very "Catholic community." The 12:00 PM Mass at the Oratory was in Latin. It brought me back to my childhood. The Church was packed- some tourists, students from Ave Maria University, (which is directly across from the Oratory), professors, homeowners with interesting mix of people. Afterwards in The Bean, the coffee house located across from The Oratory, a young girl who was working there said she loved living in the planned community of Ave Maria, with her family. Her sister attends the University. There are apparently a lot of families (about 200) who live there so far and they are large families. She said most families have six to eight children. So there are a lot of children and teens who live there, as a matter of fact when you think about it they out number the adults. Ave Maria is surrounded by farms and you need a car to get there, but it's definitely worth a visit if you're visiting the Naples or Fort Myers area. And as you would imagine everyone is very nice and helpful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Welcome to New York, the Greatest City in the World

I'm getting some needed R & R this week, but was happy to hear that Archbishop Timothy Dolan was appointed Archbishop of New York. Just what we need in New York, especially at this moment in time, a smiling, affable archbishop. Congratulations to Archbishop Timothy Dolan and New Yorkers too!
Archbishop Dolan has his work cut out for him. And I don't just mean in assuming the responsibilities and spiritual care of the Archdiocese and all that encompasses. I mean the "Capital of the World," which is also one of the "Financial Capitals of the World," is going through a difficult and challanging time. Even before his official installation on April 15th, I suggest he starts praying for the economy, because Wall Street and the stock market are in "uncharted waters" and the recession affects New Yorkers to a great degree. So that's one challange for the archbishop, Wall Street needs some good news and something positive to stop the falling Dow. Who knows, perhaps some positivity from a new archbishop could help the situation.
And then there are the diverse neighborhoods in Manhattan which he should get to know quickly. There's a lot of evangelization that needs to happen in NYC. I'm amazed at how many young people live in NYC. They're everywhere and some of them are Catholic. More needs to be done to welcome them to our Church and offer them spiritual enrichment that meets their needs.
So Good Luck-- Archbishop and may the Holy Spirit guide you. I pray you will listen and learn quickly for the good of all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Letter From A NY Cardinal

I never forget when someone is kind to me or goes out of their way to show encouragement. As New York awaits the appointment of its tenth archbishop, I've been thinking about a letter I received from Cardinal O'Connor in May of 1998. It meant a lot to me. I never expected a response to the letter I mailed him, but I did receive one, much to my amazement. My letter to the Cardinal had included a copy of an article I had written for Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper, The Tablet. What was so interesting and what compelled me to send a copy to Cardinal O'Connor was the surprising fact that he wrote a similar article, on the same topic, on the same weekend my article appeared. The articles were very similar, one appeared in Brooklyn and the other article appeared in Catholic New York. This is how the letter he wrote me started, "I just returned from Rome to find your letter and your column that appeared in the Tablet. It truly must be the work of the Holy Spirit that had us taking on the same subject at the same time!" The rest of the letter spoke about the topic we wrote about (the importance of keeping holy the Sabbath, in particular Sunday morning). The letter was well thought out and hand-signed. 
It is now framed and I read it whenever I need encouragement. When Cardinal O'Connor died on May 3rd, 2000, my friend Anne Byrne and I went to Manhattan and waited on line to attend the wake in St. Patrick's Cathedral. I wouldn't have missed it. I stood before the Cardinal, prayed and paid my respects. He had been kind to me, though I never met him personally, he said and I believed it, that the Spirit was working through us at the same time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vanity in NY and Elsewhere

The following is important news in New York. According to the NY Daily News in an article on Feb. 16th, cosmetic surgeons are complaining that business is in a slump, because of the recession. Facelifts and other cosmetic surgeries are down 20% to 50% according to Crain's NY Business. Baby boomers who don't want to grow old or (heaven forbid) look old, have spent millions on plastic surgery in recent years. Even young adults have joined the plastic surgery craze. So it seems for the time being, $20,000 facelifts are out, (for most) and less pricey options are in, such as Botox. I have a very reasonable solution for fighting wrinkles and that's eating blueberries. Blueberries can prevent wrinkles and there is no down time. And they are also good for the brain. 
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture so perhaps that is where the desire to stay young looking comes from. As Christians, we know that real beauty comes from within, the beauty and confidence that comes from knowing that you are a child of God, made in God's image and likeness. Our inherent self-worth comes from knowing we have value because we are created by God and called to be in relationship with the Divine. We are baptized into the life of the Trinity, how awesome is that! It's a shame so few people realize that reality and are convinced of it. 
I think it's important that we get that message out.....especially to young people.  

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love One Another

The greatest words ever spoken about love were spoken by Jesus.  Those words from Scripture are-  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).  I often think about those words and the power they hold. I often wonder how different the world would be if only humankind had listened to those words and acted upon them. A world of peace, tolerance and compassion is what I imagine, if those words were truly lived out throughout salvation history. 
More words about love.....

At the evening of life, you will be examined in love.   (St. John of the Cross)

Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.     (St. Thomas Aquinas)

The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved-loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.                (Victor Hugo)

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched-they must be felt with the heart.                                                   (Helen Keller)

Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.
                    (Leo Tolstoy)

I hope you have enjoyed reading these thoughts on love, because reading about love on St. Valentine's Day has made me feel gratitude for love. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Love
The first Valentine's Day card was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415 from the most unlikely of places-the Tower of London. Charles was imprisoned there . He sent a love note to his wife. It is now on display at the British Museum. I was in London this past summer and I visited the Tower of London, quite an experience.  I didn't see the love note that Charles wrote to his wife at the British Museum but I did see the Rosetta Stone, which was fascinating. The stone is made of black basalt. London is a beautiful city, but I can't say I love any city but New York. New York is my favorite city in the world. I'm slightly biased, since I'm a native New Yorker. 
The letter below tells of true love, unconditional love. It's rare, quite beautiful and it is expressed in this letter which tells of love even in the midst of extreme suffering and pain. It expresses the love of a Carmelite nun at the end of a beautiful, selfless life.  It was written on September 30th, 1897 from Mother Agnes of Jesus to M. and Mme. Guerin and Leonie Martin, "Our angel is in heaven. She gave up her last sign at seven o'clock, pressing her crucifix to her heart and saying: "Oh! I love you!" She had just lifted her eyes to heaven; what was she seeing!" The angel Mother Agnes spoke of was her sister, Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Therese is a saint and the youngest doctor of the Church and after suffering terribly at the end of her short life, she only had words of love for Jesus. Unconditional love for God, love without conditions.  (The letter is from St. Therese of Lisieux-her last conversations translated by John Clarke, O.C.D.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Early Lessons in Social Justice

Years ago when I was in college a psychology professor stated, "Food is love." He then went on to explain why. Growing up in a large Italian-American household, I learned early on that food was love, it was something I experienced. My Aunt Connie who lived upstairs from my family, was always cooking delicious Italian meals. She still is. My mother was also an excellent cook. I was determined, when I realized the importance of good food, to learn how to cook like them. I have mastered Italian tomato sauce, which is the basis for so many dishes and other traditional Italian foods. I watched my mother and aunt cook, as a young adult, I wanted to learn from them. I knew I had to watch them to find out. Later on my own family and friends, benefited from that determination. 
So growing up, food and the socialization that took place at meals was filled with love. It was a time to communicate, discuss, share stories, laugh and gather together. Now sociologists are noting that mealtime is crucial for modern families. Families who eat together, especially dinner, gain much from the experience. Children who eat dinner with their families gain tremendous benefits and are less likely to do drugs. That's how important it is.
In the house on East 52nd Street where I spent my childhood, I learned from my family about social justice. It wasn't until years later that I realized that my family, by always inviting neighbors, relatives or friends to share lunch or dinner were teaching the younger members of the family about sharing, kindness, giving and love. There was always more than enough food, of course, in case people should stop by unexpectedly. People would come and go, and they would enjoy the food and company. And I would listen intently to those stories that came into that house, from all over Brooklyn. Relatives and friends would come by from South Brooklyn, as we called it. There were stories from "the docks," stories from Bensonhurst and Red Hook. The stories always fascinated me and my brother and cousins. Now that I think about it, it was like growing up on a sitcom. So years later when I was in college and the psychology professor stated, "Food is love," I thought to myself, he's absolutely right, I learned that from my family.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Inspiring Faith of a Child

A couple of weeks ago, on a bitter cold January morning, when everything in New York City and the surrounding areas were covered with a thin sheet of ice, I was scheduled to give a talk to parents in Glendale, Queens.  Not knowing how many students and parents would actually attend, I traveled to Queens to St. Pancras Catholic School. I waited for the children and parents to arrive as they were at Mass, and I had attended Mass the evening before. I waited in the auditorium and in walked a little girl with her grandmother. I spoke to them as we waited for the others to arrive. Her story inspired me, so that I received much more that day than I gave. It seems this 7-year-old child had insisted that she walk with her grandmother the 12 blocks to the school, so that they could attend the program that morning, in preparation for her First Communion. Each block they walked was covered with ice, as it was still morning. Her uncle who would usually drive them, wasn't able to come that day. She beamed when I  told her and when I later told the others that I was very impressed at the effort she had made. Her grandmother told me she insisted on coming. I learned through the conversation that this beautiful little girl had lost her mother a couple of years earlier and she was being raised by her grandmother and aunt. And yet even though she suffered a tremendous loss at a young age, she still had this deep faith, a faith so strong that she wouldn't be deterred, she walked in the cold that morning, on slippery sidewalks, to a meeting. She had "caught" Christianity at St. Pancras School in Queens. The faith of that Catholic school child inspired me that day and still does, every time I think of her faith and trust. And as for the meeting, I was amazed, it seemed everyone showed up, the weather wasn't an issue after all. 
Interestingly, St. Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith around the year 304. He was very young at the time, a teenager, about 14 years
old. His name is Greek and means, "the one that holds everything."