Posted by: wordofthevine | December 13, 2014

The Power of Gratitude this Advent

Today I was at a formation retreat for deacon formation as my husband is in formation to be ordained a permanent deacon July 18, 2015 for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The topic was on gratitude! I have come to a new understanding of this most precious virtue and spiritual capacity. I came to see that we have to work at gratitude for many factors in today’s world keep us from it.

Gratitude is about being mindful or aware of the now moments in life. Our culture tends to be future oriented. We can cultivate the capacity for gratitude by taking the same approach that our mothers taught us when we cross the street. We are to stop, look, and go! We have to stop, to bring ourselves back to paying attention and savoring the gift of the present moment and then we have to live that moment as a gift. If we don’t we are vulnerable spiritually. Desolation can take us down or immobilize us.

Each of us has unique vulnerabilities, maybe we rush through life, take on too much so we don’t have to notice our present reactions. For me, being a sensitive person, I get hurt or immobilized by noticing too long the hurts of life. We are to notice, feel the feelings and mine the gift of the suffering. We are not to let it continue on and stop us. What about you? Do you notice both the ups and the downs each as a distinct gift to praise God for, for each has made you who you are.~ Mary

 Keeping an eternal perspective!

Keeping an eternal perspective!

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 2, 2014

Build the Cathedral of You Advent Email Retreat!

We are so busy this time of year with Christmas preparation, we often fail to keep our perspectives on the coming of Christ. Advent can slip away and we mawoman cathedraly find we haven’t taken time. I notice this even in my own house. At Mass this morning, when I caught sight of the Advent wreath, I remembered that I hadn’t gotten the family wreath out yet. Today, that is one of my missions among many.

Take time to slow down and keep yourself grounded. Join Incarnate Institute and Pietra Fitness for, Build the Cathedral of You: Healthy Holiness for Advent. This is an email retreat with MWF emails for the first three weeks of Advent, followed by a short, live, interactive online retreat session on Dec. 21 at 7 PM, CST. Sign up by emailing us at: or

As a theologian, certified spiritual director and licensed dietitian, I will explore a Catholic perspective to healthy eating and weight management that can help you grow in holiness. Pietra Fitness is a beautiful ministry of physical fitness and prayer, a true Catholic light and alternative to new age practices like Yoga and eastern meditation. Join us today. ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 28, 2014

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

Today in the United States we thanksgiving-2014have celebrated Thanksgiving Day, a huge tradition of thanksgiving, family and celebration. While there is big diversity around the components of the meal, depending on your family background, turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie are typical foods. Something else is to gather with family and friends to enjoy their company and say thank you to God for his blessings and presence with us. Most parishes offer the Mass today!

I really enjoyed the holiday today, as we hosted twenty people at the house. What I also thank God is that we all gathered together, talked and enjoyed the time. Some holidays, I have gotten sensitive and sometimes let little resentments or feelings of hurt feelings needle me. Not today! You know, family is a great and human experience.

Today, I kept thinking about Saint Ignatius’ exercise of learning to find and praise God to “attain the love of God in all things.” A line from the Spiritual Exercises really touched me and formed my mission today, carving turkey and cutting pie. The spiritual exercise reads: “I will ponder with great affection how much God, our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He possesses, and finally, how much, as far as He can, the same Lord desires to give Himself to me according to His divine decrees. I will then consider that I need to offer the Divine Majesty. I will then make a total offering of myself to God (Puhl, LJ 234).”

Ask yourself, even if you haven’t been in the USA today and celebrated Thanksgiving Day: how much God has done for you. Learn to praise Him in all situations to find Him in all things. Surrender yourself to Him, into His arms, so you aren’t left to your own resources. Where can you start today? ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 23, 2014

The Feminine Genius and the Farm Crisis Part III

For many of us lwomen american revolutioniving in the cities, we have to Google farm crisis to learn about the life altering situations that effected farmers and farm families during the 1980’s, a prime time for the feminine genius to come to the forefront.  The farm crisis in the 1980’s was the worst for farmers since the Great Depression. The facts are that during the 1980’s prices that farmers received for crops, livestock and even their land plummeted, while fuel cost and the expense to run a farm sky-rocketed. Many families were forced off the land, a good number of local, family run business in rural America closed, never to reopen again. Many family farms were taken over by corporations.

One Catholic woman, Mary R. shared with me, “One day, at the peak of the farm crisis in Iowa, I was listening to Father Norman White, the Archdiocesan director of Rural Life Conference. He said, ‘Don’t just sit back on the farm complaining about how things are going. Get involved. Let your voice be heard.” She continued, “Farmers that really needed the loans to keep afloat couldn’t get the loans because they didn’t have enough resources to offer as collateral for the big loans they needed. Lawyers, bankers and doctors who owned farms could. We didn’t think that was right, so I got on the board that decided who got loans. With women on the board, the needs of people got taken into account. You know the perspective of women: we care about people. I remember one farmer who was legally blind. He applied for a loan with no collateral. We gave it to him to keep him on the farm and give him dignity. On these decision-making boards, we need the voice and perspectives of both men and women, for without both, our organizations are “blind in one eye!”

Saint Edith Stein has written about the power of the feminine perspective/genius. She says that women are designed to position themselves alongside people, to carry their burdens as their own to give voice to the needs of people. We are gentle, yet strong, to offer our efforts to nurture and provide support for those who really need it.

Mary R. continued, “Even when, a man and woman worked side by side on the farm, everything was in the husband’s name. All the Social Security from the income  went to the man and when women retired, they had no retirement. When it came to farm programs, women had no voice and couldn’t vote on the decisions of the National Farmers Agency. We worked to get these things changed because we could see that things were better for everyone when we worked together.

Another thing we did, right at the peak of this farm crisis, which was the idea from a woman. We went back to the old ways of helping each other out, of being neighbors. In our small towns, we rallied together. We saw who had what. When someone needed to combine their oats, rather than apply for a loan to get one, they borrowed their neighbors. When they needed extra help, they helped their neighbor rather than get paid help. There was power in doing this, being a united front. Many of us were able to keep our farms with this.

Think about your own life. How have you experienced working together as neighbors and of the insights from a woman’s perspective? True richness comes when both men and women become “neighbors” to each other to see the needs on all sides. We need objective awareness of the facts, as well as insights for people. ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 21, 2014

The Feminine Genius in the Heartland! Part II

Maybe you read in my last post that I visited the ACCW group (Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women) in the Dubuque, IA Archdiocese. Our table discussion really moved me, an urban farmer as my kids describe me and an on fire Catholic pastoral leader. One dynamic woman, Susan, with beautiful bobbed premature gray hair responded to another woman’s question. She was asked how her harvesting was going. Suswomengrandmaan responded the last two years have been a real challenge. In 2013 and 2014, we had such late rains in May that we couldn’t plant the corn. I lost $49,000 in 2013 because I had to take a total loss and it was looking that way again this year because I fertilized the land for corn and then couldn’t get in to plant it. After June 1, it dried up but there wasn’t time remaining to plan corn because corn needs more time to mature. She said, “I turned to prayer and asked for God’s wisdom. What I came up with was to plan my 160 acres in alfalfa hay. My community was praying that we would get gentle rains so my hay seed didn’t get washed away. God followed through with gentle rains. Now I am making good money selling the hay. Thanks be to God!

Susan’s story continued being inspirational as she went on. My husband, Jim and I bought this farm, a little piece of heaven in 2010. He got to live there for 1 1/2 years before he died of cancer. Susan was farming this 160 acres herself, while she also works as a nurse. She said, “My nephew, who studies agronomy at Iowa State got an internship with a large farming operation. He was all excited to plant the crops but found that this farm only hires women to put the crops in. They are easier on the equipment and more precise. You know, the feminine genius, according to Pope Saint John Paul II, relates to this.

Another woman piped up. You know when the vet comes out to work on the cattle, many times the hired men get kind of rough with the cattle. The cattle get kind of crazy and don’t cooperate well. Usually the vet says, “Go get Lillian. In her quiet loving way, the cattle respond to her. They come off the rafters and just quietly meander into the gate so I can work on them.”

With our patience, our long suffering patient endurance, as women, we can develop our gifts and offer them. I have often thought about the gift of women in the family and even in the Church, as lay people with particular awareness and gift, but I had not thought of the impact of our loving intuitions on the farm. Look at your own life. Where has God placed you to utilize the feminine genius? Where can you exercise profound faith in God’s provision, like both women, who are widows that carry the load of farming: planting and harvesting the crops, and going into the barn with riled up cattle. ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 20, 2014

Holiness in the Heartland! Part One

I was asked to make a short presentation about a new ministry for women, Mary’s Mantle: Women at Prayer, that we have started to the Archdiocesan Council Grant_Wood_appraisalof Catholic Women, (ACCW) in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The focus of the new ministry is to welcome, form and spiritually support women to grow in the Spirit and to pray for priests, deacons, and vocations. The women of ACCW, the local group of women from the national organization, NCCW, focus on leadership, spiritual growth and service to the community and the United States. It is a very inspiring group. They told me that the group was started by US bishops to give women in the country a united voice.

Today they asked questions and really got behind our new ministry with many practical ideas to promote and publicize it. We celebrated Mass together and then sat down for a great meal of mid-western food: scalloped potatoes and ham. What moved me most was the conversation at the table. Being a city person, who has chickens in the backyard, I began to ask the women at the table, who all were from farms, some practical questions about wintering my chickens. This is the first year that I have had the chickens. They each were so helpful and so open about their lives.

One woman told me how God and prayer peculate her life on the farm. She and her husband had a friend in a remote area of Colorado, who had mail service only every other day. If you know anything about raising chickens, this makes it difficult to get chickens through the mail. It is possible to mail chickens overnight, but they can’t sit at the post office for several days. She and her husband agreed to bring some out with them. They loaded 35 little chickens at the hatchery for them and they took off for Colorado (with 100 pounds of chicken food in the trunk). She said, “If it got too cold for the peepers they would start to chirp quite loadly and we would turn up the heat. When it came time to find lodging, we managed to find a “mom and pop” local hotel and got a room around the back. When we opened the door of our hotel room, it was beastly hot but perfect for the day old chicks. She said, “I took the box into the bathroom and laid them in the tub. That evening and again the next day, I took one of the Styrofoam coffee cups, filled it with water and gave each chick a drink by hand, one by one. We stuffed a towel across the bottom of the door to hold the heat in and then ran the air conditioning for us.

We all chuckled thinking about her bathtub chicken coop and the attentiveness she gave each chick. I began to think that in many ways we are like the little chickens. We please God but we need so much from Him; and He needs to hand feed us like she did the chickens.

She told us, “When I have a challenge on the farm, like caring for 35 chicks on the road or when the cows get out when I am home alone, I have five intercessors who are very powerful. They always come through for they really are part of the Communion of Saints. I yell, ‘HELP’ and they start praying for me. It’s my husband, my dad, St. Isadore, the patron of farmers, my brother, who was a farmer, and St. Francis of Assisi. My practical prayers always get action.

I thought, “I never thought that chickens could teach us about the Communion of Saints but they can. Anything good, when we pray in the midst of it becomes a means for us to find God acting on our behalf…even chickens and when the cows get out. I was impressed with the power of this women’s practical prayers and her faith in God in the here and now details. In your life, where is God leading you to extend yourself and to pray with expectation? ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 17, 2014

Radiating Christ! This is Our Calling!

Have you ever wondered if you radiate Christ? With six kids, from high school students to young adults, I often wonder this. On any given day, afamily2t least one or two connect with us, and seem like they are moving towards God, and for at least one, I am praying for and concerned about somethings. I guess this is to keep me from getting cocky or prideful. I remember watching a certain large family at Church. All of their kids complied with what they were told, and all of them still seem quite pious. We all have been forming our kids, but ours have always been ones that pushed back and asked why. Even now, the young adults in our family, their practice of Catholicism is on their own terms and not mine. I have come to see that I radiate Christ better, not when I try to appear perfect, but when I show my trust in God’s providence. This often comes when I weather the challenges with prayer.

I came to this after one of my kids told me that I was out of touch. One of his friend’s parents were so open, they would drink and even get drunk with their young adults. This brought me to share, well, that wouldn’t happen with me. There is the way of holiness and the way of the world. Which path are you seeking? I guess I felt glad this kid shared with me, but I pray that God will allow him to feel the consequences if he chooses this path for now. Now I am praying that my daily Rosary for him will be like a magnet that draws him to holiness and God. There are many pulls out there.

You may ask, “Well, why are you sharing this? Isn’t it better to share shining stories of your families piety? My answer is Yes! Life, however, down here is in process. We have to know how to rejoice and how, at the same time, to buckle down and intercede for others. Another kid called this week praising God and how He had provided her husband with a new job and herself with a letter of acceptance to graduate school.

We can find in family life the ways and means to grow towards God, that is, if we take the risks to share with others both our joys and our struggles. Let us pray for each other and our families and share the ups and downs.  We radiate Christ to each other when we do this, for He loves us in our joys and is attracted to us in our needs and worries.~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 14, 2014

The Power of Holiness…To Spread Christ’s Light!

I was movPPKed by reading an account of a Protestant mystic by the name of Phoebe Palmer (1807-1884), a lay, Methodist evangelist who is considered the mother of the 19th Century holiness movement. She began to ask heart wrenching questions from God after the tragic death of her 11 month old daughter, Eliza, who had died after a nurse dropped a burning lamp into her crib while trying to fill it with oil. The child died in Phoebe’s arms which left her beseeching God for answers.This was the beginning of her formation, in letting God have everything in her on center stage.

She gradually, over time, came to experience God’s love for her, personally. God led her deeper than her own pain for she sensed God assuring her that she would carry out her ministry with the same love and devotion that she had poured into Eliza and that the results would be that she would evangelize many. In the midst of such loss, when Phoebe was able surrender all to God in trusting surrender, God filled her with His power.She shows us the power of offering all to God.

I related to Phoebe because of my own similar experience. We have six children, ages 15-25 years of age and four children we lost to early miscarriage. We prayed discerned, were open to life and then the loss of each of the four. At this time, I started asking deep questions of God and was drawn deeply into the contemplative life. All of this was my formation to live unencumbered for God.

Reviewing, The Mystic Way of Evangelism an interesting work by Protestant theologian, Dr. Elaine Heath, I came to appreciate the power of faithfulness and surrender in the ordinary, yet powerful moments of life. She writes:  “Holiness of heart and life is the language that proclaims the good news to every culture in all times…genuine holiness is deeply attractive, inviting people into relationship with the One whose meaning is love (66).”

When you look over your own life, do not discount the power of faithfully offering all to God. He doesn’t cause difficulties, only accompanies us deeper into the midst of them to fullness of life and love. How have you experienced God in the ups and downs of life? How can you continue to seek Him in faithfulness no matter the cost? ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 12, 2014

How do we know if we are growing spiritually?

How do we know if we are growing spiritually? Or, if those close to us are? What an 051important question to ask! Sometimes we may think that we are getting closer to God because of the rich experience or desire we have for prayer, for God and the Sacraments. While this often happens early in the spiritual journey, that God attracts us to Himself and into a lifestyle of holiness with rich experiences, this is not necessarily the barometer of our spiritual state. Maturing prayer often becomes more arid and dry. Why? Because God wants us to grow up; He wants to change our spiritual taste buds so we can handle the Cross. Certain important virtues can only sprout and grow when the terrain of our soul changes and the pursuit of God becomes more difficult. Think of the virtues of hope, and of faith. When the going is easy and God seems right there, what do we have to hope for or exercise our faith to hold onto.

The Lord is about purifying our intention to love Him and others. He does this, like any good personal trainer, by allowing life to challenge us so we can persevere onward through the resistance. Think about any close personal human relationship. We are attracted to the person and relationship, learn about each other and then learn to love each other with gifts and short comings. The Cross comes into even the best friendships and marriages so we can love one another with less self interest.

Therefore, we can tell if we are growing spiritually, not by how prayer feels, but by how faithful we are able to be towards it and those people around us. Do we show up for prayer for the amount of time we decided beforehand? Do we see fruits in our lives of greater freedom to love, to care for those who may thwart or reject us? Can we readily offer random acts of kindness to those who can’t pay us back now or ever? Can we lovingly confront others, when saying something honest will help them grow? Or, do we worry they won’t like us if we do?

Last Sunday, my family went to a restaurant after Mass for breakfast, my husband and myself along with three of our four sons: Paul, a college student, Patrick, a senior in high school and Timothy, a sophomore in high school. No one talked, except me. I asked the question: “Have you ever experienced Jesus as real?” Each of my sons deflected the question. I waited and got quiet. When they shared about upcoming exams etc., I encouraged them to invite Jesus into the experience. I felt discouraged and sad for what seemed to be a lack of availability/relationship with God in my kids. It wasn’t until the evening when I suggested we pray with the Gospel reading that I saw fruit. The high schoolers who were home came readily to our prayer spot and they shared what jumped out for them. The next day, Patrick, the senior, agreed to wait for his younger brother after school so he could return his football equipment. Sunday, I was discouraged because I was trying to gauge their Christian commitment by how enthusiastically they responded to my inquiry rather than by watching for signs of the fruits. (I also learned that I need wisdom when I relate with them about God. Maybe hammering them with questions is not the best way!) What about you? What fruits of God- with- you do you see in your life or in those you care about? ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 11, 2014

Say: ‘This is My Body, This is My Blood!’

Sometimes we ne1239396193f5Mn22ed a new perspective to catch a glimpse of what we are called to. I belong to a weekly faith sharing group that is reading a beautiful, yet packed short work by Venerable Concepcion Cabrera, called Irresistibly Drawn to the Eucharist. Venerable Concepcion, a wife, a mother of 9 kids and widow who lived during the Mexican Revolution in the 20th Century, lived a profound life of union with God. While she often complained to Jesus that He did not make her either a priest or a religious because He gave her so many insights into the priesthood and the profound call of the consecrated religious, she shows us the profound holiness that God calls each of us to. While she was a mystic, or someone living an ordinary life that is punctuated with transparent moments of revelation, she shows us what we can live too. She shows us how Jesus invites each of us to live the Mass in the ins and outs of our lives to transform the world with His love.

In the quiet folds of her heart, Venerable Concepcion received the words of Jesus, words we can meditate on and let them bring us new life. Jesus said to her one day: “Is it strange that I should wish and ask souls that are joined to me to say to the Father,’This is my body, this is my blood,’ with the condition, of course, that their body and blood are pure or purified, victims ( people able to offer their lives to this) of the same sacrifice as mine, with the same loving aims. If only the Church and  Christians would really form one body with mine, one blood with mine! The world would change beyond recognition and the Father would e greatly gloried. I want this nucleus of souls to continue my Passion on earth and cry out to heaven in union with me as pure Hosts: ‘This is my body, this is my blood!

What about you? Gather up the joys, the sacrifices for everything can be joined to Him as gift to make a difference in the world. We are not seeking pain, only to love widely, generously even those who are not easy to love. Let us follow through with developing the graces of our lives from Baptism and other Sacraments. Let us find him in living our present situations in pure love of Him. ~ Mary


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