A Story of Divine Mercy

Papa and Avery
Papa and his great-grandson (my son), Avery

It’s been two months since my grandfather, who my siblings, cousins, and I affectionately call “Papa”, passed from this earth to eternal life. I’ve been MIA from my writing as I processed all that happened.

When Stephen, Avery, and I moved from Virginia to the San Francisco East Bay two and a half years ago, Papa was one of my only family members in the area, other than my Aunt and Uncle in Point Reyes. He was the closest, at an hour without traffic. I wasn’t able to see him as much as I would have liked (sick and pregnant with twins and a three year old, then the twins arrived and chaos ensued). Still, I’m so grateful for the times I had with him, and the time my children spent with their great-grandfather. Papa was a great man. Although others have written the story of his life, I would like to tell the story of his death, since I was chosen to be present with him when he entrusted his soul into the arms of Jesus.

Papa spent his final years in a lovely retirement home in San Rafael, CA, where he charmed the residents and staff who served there alike. He declined quickly this summer beginning in June. I actually received the news while in Montreal directly after praying for him at the tomb of St. Brother Andre. I had never heard of St. Brother Andre, and I actually didn’t even know I was going to visit the tomb of a saint! I simply wanted to see the famous and majestic St. Joseph Oratory and hopefully attend a daily Mass there. God had even better ideas though, and it was truly a blessed and grace-filled day – a pilgrimage I didn’t know I was embarking on until I was making it. When I returned to California, I visited Papa as soon as possible and annointed him with the oil of St. Joseph that I received in Montreal, and left a medal of St. Brother Andre by his bedside.

By mid-July, Papa was in hospice, and I received word on July 17th that he was in his final days, maybe his final hours. As the only member of my side of the family on this coast, I knew I had to go to him. My amazingly supportive husband left work immediately and took over caring for the children, while I jumped in his old truck and began the drive northwest. I prayed the whole way for Papa and for my family. I have to confess that, since I’ve been “out west”, I’ve felt rather unsure of my purpose out here, and I often feel that I am in a state of waiting until we can move back closer to home. But as I drove and prayed, I heard God’s voice in my heart telling me: this is why I brought you out here. It was one of those rare realizations where time pauses and God lets you glimpse clearly a small part of his amazing plan. I felt like a spiritual EMT in my Tacoma ambulance, rushing to his side, with the sole purpose of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at his deathbed. However, I never expected to be the only person with him, holding his hand when he died.

When I arrived at Alma Via, I found my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin in the lobby. My aunt, who had tirelessly cared for him since his move to California four years ago, came up with me to his room and introduced me to the hospice nurse. He had been unconscious since the evening before, and I waited while several of the staff there came to lovingly kiss him goodbye before going home after their shifts. Then everyone left and I was alone with him; his oldest granddaughter come to say her final goodbye.

Knowing that my east coast family, especially my mom (his daughter), may not arrive before his passing, I told him how they were all on their way, and how very much they each loved him. Then, I got out my rosary, took Papa’s hand, and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy through my tears. All the while I watched his ragged breathing, which occasionally would pause, and I wondered if each one would be his last breath. I finished the Chaplet and prayed to our Lady with a Hail Mary, entrusting him to her and asking for the Holy Spirit to annoint him. I also said a prayer to his guardian angel. Then, having completed the task I had been given, I let go of his hand because I had nothing more to do. Or did I? A few seconds later, I noticed his breathing had slowed and become even more ragged. I took his cool hand in mine again as my tears fell, and I questioned if I should go and get my Aunt in case this was “it”. But I couldn’t leave him alone. So I held his hand, and I watched him take his last breath. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work, and the prayers and words I was able to say at his deathbed must have been what Papa needed to let go and entrust his soul to our Merciful Jesus.

easter-divine-mercy

After this experience, I did some further reading on the Divine Mercy Chaplet and its significance when prayed in the presence of the dying. Although I obviously knew it was very meaningful, I didn’t know the extent of it. In St. Faustina’s visions of Christ as Divine Mercy, Jesus Himself told her, “when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior” (Diary, 1541). Again He said, “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet” (Diary, 811). I know that Papa was saying this chaplet in his heart with me. After all, some of his final words were uttered as he pointed to the crucifix, which had been moved from above his bed to the wall in front of him so he could see it. He pointed at Jesus and said “that’s my friend”.

I am so incredibly grateful and completely humbled to have been chosen to help birth my grandfather into Eternal Life. I am in no way worthy of such a task, but God loves to choose the little and the weak to carry out his plan. All of us are called to participate in God’s plan of salvation – including you. You may feel like you are wandering without purpose at times, not knowing what God is calling you to do, perhaps feeling that you don’t have much to offer. Stay faithful and open, and keep showing up to prayer and the sacraments. God will show you how He wants to use you in His time. And it will be glorious. Just trust Him. Repeat after me (or better yet St. Faustina and St. John Paul II): Jesus, I trust in You!

To learn more about the Divine Mercy Chaplet and praying it for the sick and dying, just follow this link. To listen to a beautiful sung version and pray along, click here.

Building a Domestic Church: Going Deeper

In my last post, I outlined what I believe to be the essential practices for living family life as a domestic church. However, many of you may already be doing these things and are looking for inspiration on how to deepen the practice of your Christian faith in your family. This post is for you!

Although every Christian family images the love of the Trinity (in a distant, but still real, way), families are still made up of unique individuals, so it makes sense that each family is unique as well. Every family has its charisms, gifts, favorite hobbies, and, of course, idiosyncrocies too. This means that, after the essentials, how we live as a domestic church is going to vary somewhat from family to family. Which is a beautiful thing! I imagine a tapestry of families making up the body of Christ, with different patterns and colors, and all of them glorifying God in their own unique way.

With that said, here are some examples of how a family might live out life as a domestic church. I encourage you to pray with your spouse and kids about which practices to incorporate into your family life (you don’t have to stick to this list).

    Go to daily Mass. This is such a transformative practice, and it can be done, even with young kids! The more you go, the easier it gets. Daily Masses are shorter than Sunday Mass so your kids might even do better. I have a friend who goes every single day with four kids (she’s my hero). If this seems crazy to you, maybe just start with one extra Mass a week, or even a month, and work your way up.
    Say the rosary together. Outside of the Mass, this is one of the most powerful and transformative prayers you can pray to change the world and sanctify your families. And it only takes about 15 minutes! Pope Pius XI said, “The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.” If you have younger children, it will likely be hard for them to focus, but a quick google search will produce a ton of free printable rosary coloring pages for them to work on while you pray. Don’t be afraid to try it! Your family rosary will not be perfect; in fact, it might be a complete mess, but it will still be efficacious. And if this seems too overwhelming right now, just start with a decade a day.
    Decorate your house according to the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Most people decorate for Christmas, but have you thought about the other seasons as well? As bodily beings, it helps draw us deeper into the life of the Church to have visible reminders around us that constantly remind us of the current liturgical season.
    img_0150-2.jpgEnjoying our “hole-y” and “Spirit-filled” donuts for the feast of Pentecost!
    Celebrate holy days and the feast days of the saints . You could do this just for big holy days (such as Pentecost, which we just celebrated), for your favorite saints, your confirmation saints, the saints who are your namesakes, or even every feast day on the calendar if that’s your thing! Catholic All Year is a fantastic place to reference for resources and ideas on how to incorporate saints’ feast days, holy days, and the liturgical seasons into your family. The creator, Kendra Tierney, also wrote a book on concrete ways to live liturgically – definitely check it out!
    Celebrate Sacrament anniversaries. My kids are young, and we just started this practice for my oldest, who is a newly-minted 5 year old. I kept it super simple and bought a white cake from the grocery store. During dinner, we lit his baptismal candle. I tried to make him feel special and talked a little about what baptism means and how he was baptized on that day. You could definitely be more creative if you want, but it doesn’t have to be complicated!
    Volunteer together, specifically focusing on the corporal works of mercy. This is an amazing way to live your faith within the context of your local community. It also helps to instill in your children, and foster in yourself, empathy, kindness, self-sacrifice, gratitude, and an understanding of the dignity of all human life. If your kids are babies or you don’t have children, you can do this with your spouse and individually. One of the greatest plagues of our western society is our obsession with ourselves, which makes us miserable, of course, because we are created to give ourselves in love to others. Volunteering is a wonderful remedy for this!
    Make a pilgrimage together. A pilgrimage is an ancient practice of traveling to visit a holy site of our Lord, our Lady, or the saints. It can be done to honor God, in penance for a sin (this was more common in the middle ages), or to ask for a particular favor. Of course, it would be amazing to make it Fatima, Rome, or the Holy Land, but that’s not feasible for every family. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a pilgrimage though! There are several sites than can help you find one local to where you live. This is one I’ve used before and like.
    Invite people over for dinner! This should include your friends, but I encourage you not to limit yourself only to those you feel most comfortable with. Invite new neighbors, acquaintances, your parish priest, people you know of who are going through a hard time, the families of your children’s friends, etc. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in knowing who God wants you to reach out to. I love this post from Haley Stewart about the significance of hosting people for meals, and it may address some of the objections that are popping into your head. (I know it did for me).
Family hike in the Berkeley Hills
    Get outside and talk about God. Since the beginning of time, people have been drawn to God through the beauty of His creation. I know many people for whom this is the reason they believe in God’s existence. For those who are already Christians, being in nature is a way for us to draw even closer to our Creator, by admiring its beauty, which is a reflection of Him, and by seeing the complexity and grandeur of nature as a sign of His love for us. My family loves to go on hikes and explore the wildness of creation. But even just spending time in a park full of trees and green grass can be a way to teach your children about God and His great love for us.
    Foster a love for beauty in art and music and teach your children that beauty draws us to God, because God is beauty itself. You can do this in so many different ways, but some examples are to listen to music in your home, create art, go to museums and art shows, and attend concerts together. Sacred music would be especially appropriate, but beauty can be found in many genres!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways that your family can live as a domestic church. It’s also not meant to overwhelm you. Some of these practices are more important than others. Read through this list, pray with your spouse and children about it, jot down ideas that aren’t listed, and ask God to guide you in deciding what practices you want to begin as a family. You can always start small. God loves to do great things with little, and He will surely multiply your efforts!

How does your family live life as a domestic church? Please share below in the comments!

Seven Essentials for Building a Domestic Church

Have you heard of the expression “the domestic church”? It’s an ancient phrase resurrected by the Second Vatican Council which refers to the Christian family. Specifically, it refers to a Christian family that teaches, learns, and lives out their faith in the context of everyday life. The Catechism describes the domestic church as “a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” The Christian family/domestic church is of vital importance in the Church and to the transformation of the greater culture in which we live.

IMG_8410I will be the first to acknowledge that family life often, even most of the time, does not seem very “church-like”, let alone God-like, which we are told it is, or at least should be. As a mom to three young kids, including 22-month old twins whose sole purpose in life seems to be destroying my house (send help!), my family life is usually chaotic, messy, and sometimes even just plain gross. Yet Pope St. John Paul II tells us that “the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life” (Letter to Families, 6). So we have a juxtoposition that so often characterizes human existence, that of the body and the soul, the mundane and the sacred.

Given the often chaotic and imperfect nature of real family life, how do we discover and foster the deeper meaning of the family? We do this by accepting God’s grace (especially in the sacraments) and continually working to build our own family as a domestic church. It’s become clear to me in my study of and prayer about this topic that there are some practices that are essential to being a domestic church and others that are more “optional” or, at least, variable in expression from family to family.

Here are the seven practices I see as essential to living life as a domestic church:

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  1. Go to Mass together every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Occasionally, this may not be possible, but making every effort to go to Mass with all the family members together is so important and will be fruitful. This is true even if you don’t hear a word of the Mass because your kids are crazy – believe me, we’ve all been there. There is something objective that happens at Mass, something that transcends your subjective experience of it. So definitely try your best to pay attention and participate, but if you can’t due to the shenanigans of young children, just know that God’s grace is still powerfully at work. Also, ideally, you will attend Mass at your home parish every Sunday, but if it’s the difference between going and not going, definitely check out times at other parishes near you! Masstimes.org is a fantastic resource for finding Mass while you’re traveling or when you can’t make it to the times your parish offers.
  2. Attend regular confession as a family. Confession can be a sensitive subject. If you haven’t gone in a while yourself, that’s the first place to start. The more you go, the easier it gets and going often will help your children become more comfortable with it as well. For me personally, going every month or so really helps keep my spiritual life from stagnating. Here’s a good guide for going to confession if it’s been awhile.
  3. Put your marriage first. I find it helps to continually remind myself to do this and to make it to the confessional when I forget (which is often). We all love our children and they are truly precious, but believe me, you’re not doing them any favors by neglecting your marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family, and the sacramentality of marriage is the foundation of the domestic church.
  4. Cultivate your own personal prayer life. This doesn’t have to be complicated! If you’re not praying every day already, one way to start is by subscribing to a devotional email that you can pray on your smart phone in the morning (I pray this one with the daily readings), or just by reading your Bible for five minutes. You can start small and then pray about how to incorporate other practices and devotions as you get in the habit of personal prayer.
  5. Pray as a couple, if your spouse is willing, and do it everyday. If not, (and either way), don’t forget to pray for your spouse! Our job as spouses is to help the other get to heaven. It is so easy to forget to pray for one another at times (I forget too!), but this is an essential part of our vocation. Sidenote: I also find praying for my husband helps me to be more compassionate toward him and wards off resentment.
  6. Pray as a family in some way everyday. Obviously, praying an evening rosary would be amazing, but when you’re just getting started, this might be too daunting. An Our Father together followed by personal prayer intentions or things you each are thankful for would be a great start!
  7. Talk about your faith. I know this can be awkward if you’re not used to doing it. But I encourage you to dive in anyway. Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year has a great article about concrete ways to do this. If you feel unsure of yourself in this realm because maybe you don’t know why you believe what you believe as well as you’d like, this is a great opportunity to do a little learning. I’m a big fan of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – I refer to it all. the. time.

Okay, that’s it for now! Remember, these are just the essentials. So if you’re already doing all of this and are longing for more, I’ll follow up with another post soon on ways to dive deeper into living life as a domestic church. In the meantime, I’d love to hear the ways you live out your family life as a school of faith. Please share in the comments!

 

In the Weeds

Today I decided to tackle some weeds growing out of control in part of our yard. I find manual labor to be so good for the soul.  It’s one of the few things that can truly quiet my mind, which in turn, gives me space to contemplate. As I was weeding, it occurred to me how much of a parallel there is between literal pulling up weeds in a garden and rooting out sin in the garden of our own souls. Here is what I gleaned:

1. If you don’t weed regularly, it takes much longer and much more effort to get rid of those unwanted plants. So it is with sin. If we ignore the little sins in our lives, they start to grow without us even noticing. And then before we realize it, we’ve got a garden full of weeds! Then it can be hard to even know where to begin in addressing the things keeping us from God and preventing the beauty God’s Love from growing in our hearts.

2. By ignoring a patch of less harmful weeds, we may miss the fact that more insidious plants are growing up in their midst. In my case, there were a lot of easy to pull up, non-thorny weeds,and, in the middle, was a three-foot high thistle plant with scary-looking barbs all over it. Yikes. This can happen with sin in our lives. By ignoring “small” sins and letting them take root, bigger sins can take us by surprise. And they can do much more damage and be much harder (and more painful) to root out.

3. Christ is the Gardener. Although we must put forth our own efforts rooting out sin, it really is His grace that makes the work we are doing effective. If we forget this and try to do it on our own power, the weeds will certainly win the battle. The most effective way to allow Christ to root out the weeds of sin in our lives is to frequent the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist. I find that going to Confession regularly (my goal is every month) makes an enormous difference in my spiritual life. Combining a nightly examination of conscience with monthly Confession is a great combination for rooting out sin, and, to continue the analogy, the Eucharist is kind of like the fertilizer for virtue.

Can you relate to this analogy? What are some of the tools you have found that help root out the weeds of sin in your own life?

Thoughts On the Resurrection

Christ-resurrected

Happy Easter! Did you know that the Church celebrates Easter as an Octave? So essentially all eight days of Easter are being celebrated as one. Check out Blessed Is She’s blog post on this topic – super interesting. Every day in the Easter Octave I have been saying at least one decade of the Rosary and meditating on the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection. Which got me thinking, what is the significance of the Resurrection, for our own lives, really? How does it impact us other than being a nice idea?

For me, the most profound way that the Resurrection impacts my everyday life is that I do not have to be bogged down by my sins. Like a lot of people, I struggle with the same sins, day after day, month after month, year after year. I confess the same things in the confessional. It can be really discouraging. But the Catechism tells us that “by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life” (CCC 654). Because Christ has conquered sin and death, I receive His mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation and have reason to hope for complete liberation from sin in heaven. More to come on that whole mercy thing in a few days when we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.

Speaking of conquering sin and death, we need no longer fear dying. I think most of us are at least a little afraid of death. Many of us are very afraid, if we’re being honest. And we’d rather not talk about it, so can we change the subject please?? In our culture, suffering and dying are pretty much the worst thing that can happen to someone. Especially dying a tortuous death that is not of our own choosing and/or dying at a young age, like Jesus did. However, Christ, by dying such a death and then coming back to life,  has given us reason to cast aside our fear, because through His victory, we are now able to have life eternal in Heaven with Him. Death is now the gateway to that. If we accept his offer of salvation, we need not fear because unimaginable joy and life await us on the other side of physical death. So just as the angel told the women at the tomb to “be not afraid… He has risen”, neither do we need to be afraid.

Moreover, the ineveitable earthly experiences of suffering and death are no longer empty. Christ, through dying and rising, has entered into those human realities and given them meaning. Suffering is unavoidable. I’m sure all of us can think of an example of how suffering has entered into our own lives. Maybe we’re even experiencing pain or anguish in this very moment. Because of the Resurrection, all of these experiences can actually bring about good. First, we can choose to unite them to Christ’s suffering. In doing so we participate in not only our own redemption but the redemption of the world. St. Paul said, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Not that Christ’s suffering and death was incomplete, but He chose to make space in those sufferings for us to unite our own pain to His. And we can do that precisely by making the choice to give him our sorrows on this earth.

Even more personally, through suffering, our own salvation can be furthered and secured. Although it is difficult and frankly, oftentimes really, really sucks, God can and often does use our own pain to bring us back to Him. If we let Him, God will use these experiences to make us more virtuous, less selfish, more aware of eternal realities, and more dependent on Him. This is true even if you don’t feel or see it happening. 

Finally, the Resurrection of Christ means that our own bodies will someday be resurrected. This is a hard mystery to grasp for sure, but at the end of this world God will raise us up physically and give us perfect, glorious bodies. This is cause for hope, because our own bodies on this earth are weak and imperfect. Some of us struggle with chronic sicknesses. Some of us have disabilities that impose limitations on our life. Some of us experience pain on a daily basis. But, because of the Resurrection, someday our bodies will be perfected and these disabilities, sicknesses, limitations, aches and pains, fatigue will be healed, and our bodies will be strong and beautiful.

I guess that’s my takeaway from meditating on the Resurrection – death has lost it’s sting and now we have no reason to fear but cause to HOPE! As St. Paul said so eloquently in 1 Corinthians (15:55-57):

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   

Thanks be to God, indeed!

Just. Begin.

I’ve been thinking of starting a blog for YEARS, and especially over the past year and a half of being a stay at home mom. A million excuses have held me back, and maybe it just wasn’t time until now. Regardless, I feel strongly that there is something inside me that needs to get out – thoughts, insights, inspiration for others, maybe just the knowledge from years of studying Theology that hasn’t had an outlet in too long. I’ve prayed and prayed, and recently, in my prayer I heard that very quiet yet very powerful voice that is the unmistakable utterance of the Holy Spirit. In response to my question, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” I heard, quietly, “Begin.” Here is my beginning.