Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Great St. Catherine

Since March is National Women's History Month and this is the last day of the month, I thought I would share a reflection from a remarkable Catholic woman, who was bold, intelligent and creative. She was a Dominican laywoman-St. Catherine of Siena.  She is a canonized saint and one of the three women Doctors of the Church. She is a woman I greatly admired along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, the other two women Doctors. The following words were a Meditation of the Day in Magnificat, the daily missal, that I couldn't live without. I recently met Fr. Peter Cameron, O.P., the editor of Magnificat and I told him how much Magnificat means to me. He told me that he chooses the reflections. The reflections help make Magnificat the great resource that it is. I recently read this piece at a retreat day that I gave and as I was reading it, I realized how powerful it is. And so that is why I am sharing it today. 
Living the New Wine of Christ
Love God not for your own sake, for your own profit, but love him for his sake, because he is the highest Good and is worthy of being loved. Then your love will be perfect and not mercenary. You will be unable to think of anything except Christ crucified and the wine you have drunk-that is, the perfect charity which you see God has shown and given you before the creation of the world, since he was in love with you before you even came to be. If he had not so fallen in love with you he would never have created you. But because of the love he had for you as he saw you within himself, he was moved to grant you being. How your thoughts will be stretched when you drink this charity! I mean you will be thinking about what there is still to drink, eagerly desiring to taste and possess the supreme eternal beauty of God. 
Now we have found the place where love resides and where the soul may get it, and we have found out how we are to take hold of it. I beg you then, for the love of Christ crucified, not to be indifferent. No, set your mind on going to that place, and on keeping to the road I have shown you. If you do this you will fulfill God's will and desire in your regard, for he seeks and wills nothing else but that you be made holy.....
He is our gentle God, and he has no need of us. He loved us before we loved him and he have himself to us as a gift, not because he had to. I don't want you to be ungrateful for so great a favor, but thankful and appreciative in response to the grace and loving mercy of the Holy Spirit....Keep living in God's holy and tender love.  St.Catherine of Siena

Friday, March 27, 2009

A.J. The Cat

A.J. is my beloved cat. He's a very cute Burmese cat. Burmese cats are known to be affectionate. He greets me at the door when I come home, he acts more like a dog than a cat. Burmese cats come in four colors, A.J. is champagne color. Burmese cats love people, they don't like being alone. Foreign cats are known to be intelligent and Burmese cats are known for their intelligence. A.J. has toy mice to play with as he is very playful. What's interesting is that A.J. plays with his toy mice and then places them in his food dish. He eats around them. 
I recently read a book review which fascinated me. It was about a book titled, Alex and Me-How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg. When Alex the African Gray parrot died in 2007 the world mourned. The New York Times and other newspapers ran articles reviewing his achievements. Alex could count to six, identify colors, understand concepts such as bigger and smaller and had a vocabulary of 150 words. To his supporters he was proof that the phrase 'birdbrain' should be expunged from the dictionary. His owner and colleague wrote in her book, Alex and Me, the parrot she bought in a Chicago pet store in 1977 would help open a new window on the capacity of birds and other animals to think and communicate. Dr. Pepperberg, a scientist, proved that Alex did have cognitive ability and could distinguish colors, shapes, sizes and that he understood concepts like 'bigger, 'same,' 'different,' and 'none.'  When he gave a wrong answer or knocked over a cup of coffee, he'd say, "I'm sorry." Alex was also very emphatic. Dr. Pepperberg wrote, he would sense when I was particularly blue, he would sit close with me at those times. It made me think of A.J., who sits with me and keeps me company when I'm reading. 
Amazingly, right before Alex the parrot died of a heart attack, his last words to Dr. Pepperberg were, You be good. I love you. It seems even animals appreciate the importance of love and goodness and they need closure, as we do. 
People who believe that animals have more intelligence and feelings than we acknowledge are probably right. According to Dr. Pepperberg our pets do love us and if they could speak like Alex, they would tell us so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Staying Healthy for the Journey

A recent study warned that older Americans who eat large amounts of red meat and processed meats face a greater risk of death from heart disease and cancer. The federal study of more than half a million men and women bolsters prior evidence of the health risks of diets laden with red meat like hamburger and processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts. Lead author of the study Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute said the findings support the advice of several health groups to limit red meat intake to decrease cancer risk.
For health reasons and spiritual reasons I haven't eaten red meat in years. I only eat fish and chicken. From readings I've learned that in many religious orders, in monasteries and convents, (at certain times in history and for others at times in the liturgical year),  eating meat was limited or not permitted. As we are doing now in Lent. I felt better physically and spiritually when I stopped eating red meat. 
It's important to eat well and exercise. There are so many studies which state that eating well and exercising each day prevents disease. We need strength and good health to do God's work, to evangelize and to stay healthy, not only for ourselves but for those who loves us and need us. I've experienced firsthand the devastating affects of cancer and the toll it takes on an entire family and network of friends. My mother died of lung cancer at the young age of 48. I had a very young mother. 
This past weekend I did some volunteer work for the Breast Cancer Coalition in my neighborhood. I wrote about a fitness expo they held and the article will be printed in a local newspaper. A quote hanging in the gym where the fitness expo was held summed it up, Those who think they have no time for exercise, will eventually have to make time for illness (Edward Stanley. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ideas for Stressed Out Americans

According to a recent survey, 8 out of 10 Americans are stressed over the economy. I mentioned in a previous entry how people are losing sleep over the economy and now there's all that anger too.  I was thinking about how much people in the pews need practical advice on improving the quality of their lives. Of course that would be in addition to meaningful and poignant reflections on the Scripture readings. Just my opinion, but it wouldn't hurt to help people deal with stress.  Why not include suggestions in homilies? It's difficult to pray when you're stressed out. So here are some ideas that I've gathered-(in case there are any priests or deacons who might read this blog from time to time). Anyhow these suggestions are for everyone...
*To reduce stress seek sunlight, water, parks and other natural environments-(according to Stephen Kellert, Ph.D., "Humans have always relied on nature to sustain us, so it's not surprising that it soothes us when we're under stress.") Even visualizing nature can lift your mood.
*Walk away stress-people who are regular walkers report having a significantly higher quality of life such as improved mood, decreased bodily pains and walking is also great for your overall health. Walking can reduce the risk of many diseases.
*Positive affirmations do help us feel better-such as, "I am a child of God, God's divine favor is coming my way." 
*Laugh and laugh some more-laughing is good for us, psychologically and physically as well. See humor in situations. 
*The Holy Name of Jesus Prayer-Using the name of Jesus in prayer is an ancient practice in the Church. Simple but powerful, it has a calming affect as well as bringing one closer to God. Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes and try to still your thoughts . Take a deep breath in through your nose. As you breathe in, quietly say "Jesus" and slowly exhale the breath through your mouth and feel worries and anxieties leave your body and quietly say, "Savior," "Redeemer" or "Lamb of God," or another title for Jesus.  This prayer can be prayed for a few minutes or longer. Rest after you have completed this prayer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sfingi and Zeppole Pastries

On the eve of the feast of St. Joseph's Day, I think of my father, Joseph, who always gave me a tremendous amount of encouragement, a love of books and so much more. He is greatly missed. My middle initial stands for Jo, which is my middle name. If I were born a boy, I would have been named Joseph but since I was a girl, I was given the middle name Jo.
Tomorrow I will go to the bakery and buy sfingi and zeppole. I can hardly wait. I was looking up references to St. Joseph's pastries and many sites have pictures of these delicious Italian pastries, which made me want to go to the bakery now....
St. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church, given this title by Pope Pius IX, for his role as guardian and protector of the Church. A righteous, just and humble man, who descended from royal lineage (he is linked to the house of King David), he can teach us all something about humility. 
St. Teresa of Avila wrote this about St. Joseph, To other saints the Most High seems to have given grace to assist us in some special necessity, but St. Joseph, I know by experience, has power to help us in ALL. I recently found a St. Joseph prayer card that I had, which came from the Carmel of Buffalo and it had St. Teresa's quote on it, which is how it found it's way into this entry. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

One Hundred Prayers in Ireland

Tomorrow on March 17th, the feast of St. Patrick, two million people will descend on New York City to watch the St. Patrick's Day parade. After finishing a tour of duty in Afghanistan the New York Army National Guard's legendary Fighting 69th unit, will lead the parade. On the eve of this extraordinary parade, I thought a few words from the great St. Patrick would be appropriate, When I had come by ill luck to Ireland-well, every day I used to look after sheep and I used to pray often during the day, the love of God and the fear of him increased more and more in me and my faith began to grow and my spirit to be stirred up, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and I used to rise at dawn for prayer, in snow and frost and rain because the Spirit was glowing in me.  No one doubts that the Spirit was glowing in St. Patrick and no one could possibly doubt the positive effects those one hundred prayers had. 
Another great Irish saint, St. Columba was also a remarkable human being. Adamnan concluded his biography of St. Columba with these words, He had the face of an angel. He was of excellent nature, polished in speech, holy in deed, great in council. He never let a single hour pass without engaging in prayer or reading or writing or some other occupation. He endured the habit of fasting and vigils without intermission by day and night. The burden of a single one of his labors would have seemed beyond the powers of man. And in the midst of his toils he appeared loving to all, serene and holy and rejoicing in the joy of the Holy Spirit in his inmost heart. 
Columba built a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona,  In Iona, Columba built a great seat of learning, he taught theology, Sacred Scripture and the classics. He also wrote poems and hymns and illuminated the books he so loved. 
I'm very inspired by the lives of the saints, I think that's quite obvious.

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Thomas Merton

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lessons in Humility

Lent 2009 is a strange one. If you walk down any street in Manhattan, you can see the unsettled look on people's faces. People feel unnerved by these times. According to columnists and Catholic bloggers, Church attendence seems to be up. Perhaps, in humility, more people will begin to realize their need for God. People of faith, who believe in God and the power of prayer, go through difficult times more easily. That's a fact. They can turn to God and prayer for inner strength and courage. 
Humility in prayer reminds us of how much we need a relationship with God and the importance of God's mercy. The great St. Teresa of Avila, saint and Doctor of the Church, believed that humility was crucial for spiritual growth. During Lent, especially this Lent, it's good to remember that. 
These are her words, We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for beholding God's greatness, we realize our own littleness.....and by meditating upon His humanity we find how very far we are from being humble.
What are Christians to do? St. Teresa would say, Remember Christ crucified. Remember the humanity of Christ and meditate on his sufferings. 
In these uncertain times, it's best to trust in God and rely on the mercy and love of God. Prayer is a great gift, belief is a great gift. So many times I've heard people say, I couldn't make it through that experience without my faith, without prayer. Those are my words too.
The following prayer by St. Teresa is one that I read everyday. It's on a card that I have. It was sent to me from a Carmelite Bishop who lives high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, serving the people there with love and compassion.  NJA

Let nothing disturb you
Nothing frighten you
All things are passing
God never changes
Patience wins all things
Whoever has God wants nothing
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa's Bookmark

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Distracted By Too Much Stuff

A socialite from Atlanta wears a dress to a party that she wore ten years ago and that's news now. And what's even more interesting is that, it is now considered trendy to spend less, simplify and admit conspicuous consumption is out. It seems people are changing their spending habits, because of the economy. Maxine Frankel, was quoted in a New York Times article (Extravagance Has Its Limits As Belt-Tightening Trickles Up by Shaila Dewan), "I think this economy was a good way to cure my compulsive shopping habit....It's kind of funny but I feel much more satisfied with the things money can't buy; like the well-being of my family. I'm just not seeking happiness from material things anymore." Here's the silver lining, people are starting to realize that perhaps they've over-accumulated stuff.  Most of us have too much stuff. Right now, flaunting wealth is considered bad taste and disrespectful. It makes people uneasy reading about families in California living in motel rooms and tent cities. Can something positive come out of this negative situation? 
Carol Morgan, who teaches law at the University of Georgia said "she felt a responsibility to cut needless spending. 'That is probably something that is a prudent thing to do in any event, but particularly now I see it as the right thing, as the moral thing to do." She now wants to increase her charitable giving.  I just read about an organization that helps families move out of motel rooms, by helping people to find jobs and apartments. It's called the Illumination Foundation, a cause worth helping. Ms. Morgan is quoted as saying she thinks people will replace extravagance with a "desire to live more simply-replace that with time with family or time for spirituality-what a positive outcome to a very negative situation."
Perhaps when things start to correct themselves, which I hope happens soon, people will find more time for things that really matter-like quality family time, time with friends and time for God. People rush from place to place in the modern world, when reflection, quiet time and prayer is so necessary for a balanced life.
This is a great quote from St. Basil--"If only we would permit ourselves not to see the present, but to gaze steadfastly with hope at things a little more distant."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Living Through "The Great Disruption"

As noted in a New York Times article this Sunday by Thomas Friedman titled, The Inflection is Near?, 2008 will be remembered as the year when things started to-dare we say- fall apart. He quotes an Australian environmental business expert who has a name for this moment in time-"when both Mother Nature and father Greed have hit the wall at once-"The Great Disruption."
Stated in the article, "Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year-more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world's fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit."
"Just a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we're living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets," argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. He warns, "Mother Nature doesn't do bailouts."
How to make sense of all this? Gilding is quoted in the article as saying, "When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, 'What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?'"
As people of faith, people who believe in the power of prayer, what is our role, what is our mission, in all this? If this is the "Great Disruption," how can we help to turn things around? I'm not sure what the answers are but certainly we need to pray for God's wisdom. We need to conserve and educate. (Some countries have started making investments in clean power, so there is some positive news.) We need to help those who are suffering. Christians are a hopeful people, I guess with all this negativity one thing we can do is offer hope to others, a positive attitude, a smile, encouragement and a helping hand. We can proclaim that, "With God all things are possible." Even getting out of this mess, is possible with God's help and guidance. And in the Northeast where I live, Spring is around the corner, which means the return of songbirds, flowers, abundant sunshine and budding trees. There are some things to be optimistic about.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Paying Attention to Jesus

A catechist recently complained to me that his students don't seem to remember Catholic doctrine from one year to the next. His 7th grade students don't seem interested, he can't get them to pay attention or retain what he's teaching them in religion class. It's a frustration many catechists have especially those teaching junior high school students. He was so frustrated that I told him to try something totally different. I suggested he show them the movie, Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli, in short segments and then discuss it afterwards. It's an excellent movie, about the life of Christ, they could learn a lot from it. We have to try to "connect" students to Jesus and make his teachings come alive. As the Bishops' documents state, we should be putting children (and adults) in communion with Jesus Christ. I believe if we get them interested in Jesus, then they'll want to learn more and they'll pay attention.
At a religion workshop I attended this week titled, "Discipleship and Service", the presenter showed the DVD "Rich," one in a series of short movies called the Nooma series. I had never heard of them before, probably because they are produced by a Christian organization. They are short films, concise and to the point, each one about 10-15 minutes long. Rob Bell is the speaker and he's good. I just ordered my own copy of Nooma # 13, which is titled, "Rich." Rob Bell talks frankly about how blessed Americans are, how much we take for granted and how much we have compared to other people in the world. I've heard some of the statistics before but I never realized that only 8% of the people in the world own cars. This DVD really makes you think about how much we have and how it's our responsibility as Christians to care for others. It would be good to show this during Lent and use it as a motivator for service projects. Catholics are very charitable but we could do more and those of us who can should. 
In these horrific economic times we're living through, Americans are hurting too. During Lent I pray we can be the hands of Christ and reach out to those suffering right in our own neighborhoods. Little gestures of caring mean so much when people are in despair. 

Whoever confers benefits will be amply enriched and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.   (Proverbs 11:25)

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.  Mother Teresa

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are You Losing Sleep?

One third of Americans are losing sleep over the economy. Eighty percent of health care is spent on stress-related disorders. Reducing stress sounds like a good idea and perhaps it would be good advice for Lent. It can be more difficult to pray when you're stressed and worried. There are many proven ways to reduce stress, one of them is journaling. Journaling is easy to do and inexpensive. All you need is some quiet time, a pen and a notebook. You don't have to be a good writer or worry about spelling or grammar. Just write on......Saints and spiritual seekers throughout the centuries, have used journaling as a way to reflect on their relationship with God and their struggles on the journey of faith. But journaling has other benefits too. It reduces stress, it can promote personal growth and help with problem-solving skills. It also helps to increase creativity. And this amazes me. Apparently, according to people who study creativity, just by writing down your thoughts everyday, (from the most mundane activities to your inspirational thoughts), your creativity increases over time. I find that fascinating. I often use favorite Scripture quotes in my journaling to reflect upon and think through. 
I found an article I saved on journaling from 2002 and it quoted Joan Migton, an academic specialist with Kean University, We don't listen to ourselves. We turn on the TV, the radio, anything so we don't have to listen to us. Writing in a journal may be the only time of the day when you listen to yourself.  Jonathan Progoff, an expert on journaling is quoted in the same article which is titled, Listening to What's Inside by Lisa Ann Williamson as saying, There is more research that writing is therapeutic to reduce tension, gain awareness...the journaling process can be particularly helpful during a life change, illness, job change or traumatic event. Sounds like good advice to me. 

Quotes I like on creativity-
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has beauty, power and magic in it.--  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am still learning--Michelangelo