Posted by: wordofthevine | January 18, 2017

Being Captivated by Jesus!

toddler-jesusI celebrated my first Christmas at Mass in my new parish. Almost my whole family, all my kids, was together at Mass which made me very happy. As I gazed upon the altar, I found my eyes raised to contemplate the infant Jesus in the Holy Family statue that sits above on the high altar. I was drawn so I couldn’t take my eyes off of the toddler Jesus form before me.  I was so moved, in fact, that every day for the next week, I prayed with a prayer card of the child Jesus which confused me somehow.

Because I cherish being a mom and particularly loved it when my kids were in the toddler stage, I sensed that Jesus was just loving me through my human experiences in a way that allowed me to reach deep within myself to make an offering of my life to him. He spoke “my language.”

Sometimes I can fall prey to an expectation that if I was truly spiritual, I would be able to just let go of the particulars of my human life and sail on grace to God. When I sit down to pray, my mind can wander and my body gets restless sitting down to pray. God must know this for He comes to me in a way that best captivates me and is most familiar to me.

Jesus was teaching me a simple truth about growing spiritually. We grow in holiness and intimacy with God by bringing to Him everything about us, our life story, our human experiences and desires and connecting it with Him. He comes to us through what means the most to us on the human plane so we are most open to receiving Him.

Blessed P. Marie Eugene, O.C.D., a newly beatified Carmelite priest illustrates to me why I was moved by the image of Jesus that was so familiarly united with my own life. He says that “in order that the outpouring of the divine life might be more abundant [in us], Christ wanted our contact with His humanity, which is the physical instrument for this. By this holy humanity of Christ, the Word lays hold on and draws after Him all people who let themselves be taken captive by His grace.”[i]

What about you and your life? How is the Lord pursing you to reveal his love to you? Be alert to what moves you, slow down and pay attention to how intimately and personally God is reaching out to you by what you know the best. We come most easily to God to be transformed by savoring our human life but finding God coming intimately to us through our humanity.

[i] Blessed P Marie Eugene, O.C.D., I want to see God, The Fides Publisher Association, Chicago, Ill, 1953, p 75, 77

Posted by: wordofthevine | January 15, 2017

Standing in the Midst of the Storm!

01d58367c1da77af0bb0c08512fc50b9Recently I have made many significant changes in my personal life. I moved three hours away from where I had lived for twenty years and raised my family. My husband and I discerned that I was being called to take a new position directing spiritual care at a Catholic Hospital which meant moving to a new town and even a new diocese. We are keeping two places and commuting back and forth so our youngest can finish high school this spring with his classmates, a separation that seems to bother me more than the senior in high school. I like my job but have questioned God at times. Why now and why here away from my familiar stomping grounds. I can’t see everything that God is doing in and around me, but my earlier experiences of loss and change have shown me that God is faithful to his provision for me. I feel hopeful that this will ultimately deepen my capacity for ministry and for loving others.

Change brings growth, and usually the most costly changes bring the greatest blessings and growth. Without the Cross, we stay comfortably stagnant in the familiar. When our footing changes under our feet, we don’t stand so securely on our own resources/perception.  When we are dealing with the grief that comes with loss, we are more vulnerable which means we can either get stuck in negative emotions or with the right approach become more faithful. If we nurse angry, resentful emotions, for me homesickness for what used to be, the enemy of our souls can work to create division and havoc. However, God can become more a part of our life when we suffer because we know we need him and seek him wholeheartedly without reserve.

The Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, where we moved for my work, has just announced the final plan for Ministry 2025 pastoral reorganization which involves closing parishes, going from 100 parishes to 31 parish clusters. This hits deep in the heart for since I’ve come the threat of all this has been weighing on minds of so many. Parishes where people have received all their Sacraments along with their grandparents and great grandparents are closing and either becoming oratories for only weddings and funerals or clustering with ten or more other parishes near them.  (My great-grandparents are buried at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, one of the parishes that is becoming an oratory.) People are struggling to stand faithfully together.

Blessed  Father Marie Eugene, O.C.D. a French Carmelite priest who was beatified several months ago offers us key insights into working with the difficulties in our lives so we become holy and the best version of ourselves as people and as parishes. He says the best defense against demoralization is to focus our attention on what we have been seeking through our parishes…greater love of God. Band together, drop, kick and run from temptations to lash out. Turn to God; make an act of love of God which will free us from focusing on what’s bothering us.

Father Eugene tells us that this ability to release our present situation to God and run towards God is something that we grow in being able to do. At first, we make the decision to note our reactions but to exercise our faith in God by telling God how we love and trust in His provision for us.  We do this as often as we need to, to keep our balance. This isn’t over spiritualizing our difficulty but knowing in humility what we have the power to change and what we don’t. We can direct our attention to God, over and over again, so we can move in His Spirit here and now and love those who seem to bring us down.

Posted by: wordofthevine | April 15, 2016

Place of Greatest Potential

spiritIn our parish bulletin was a request for volunteers willing to sit with the dying; wanting to ensure that none died alone. My 104 year old grandmother had recently died and I was thankful that my aunt and her friends stayed with my grandmother during her final hours, since I lived three hours away and could not be there. I felt compelled to do for others, what I could not do for my grandmother.

I sat with a small, frail stranger three or four hours a day during his final week. The first time I took his hand, I noticed his irregular, labored breathing would calm and became peaceful. What an amazing gift for him with such little effort on my part. I sat and read as I kept vigil. My reading was interrupted by a thought…what if I was holding the hand of a rapist, drunk or thief? Suddenly, I felt this vision or knowing come to me…those things that I worried about were all man made things. His reputation and behaviors, when pulled away from the God made spirit or soul, exposed the beautiful, perfect part of his being that was made in the likeness of God. This perfect part of him looked exactly like that part of me and any other person on earth regardless of the sin we all have committed. I instantly fell in love with this stranger and I was so privileged and honored to be present at this time of his life.

10 years ago, there were three individuals who made my professional life miserable. It was because of them, I left the job I loved and excelled at. I love my new job even more, which made it easy to forgive the three because, had they not made me uncomfortable in that job, I would never had taken my current job, which has been so rewarding.

There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Years later, despite the happiness in my current job, animosity and spiteful feelings would well up in me each time I would cross paths with those three individuals. At reconciliation, Father would share strategies or perspectives to help me move past the pain they had created for me, but still, those feelings would resurface.

After the experience with the dying stranger, I am now able to look beyond that imperfect man-made shell of these three individuals. I am able to forgive, forget AND love them for the perfect God-made soul they are. Such a gift of peace I have received. I had gone to the nursing home to give of myself to others but instead, received a far greater gift from this stranger.

It is important to always put ourselves in the place of greatest potential to BE Jesus or RECEIVE Jesus. Each person you see or meet is there for a reason…either to make a difference in YOUR life or for you to be a blessing in THEIRS. If all you do is work in your cubical, barn, home or factory and you then go home and spend the rest of your day in front of a TV or game station, you are cheating yourself and others from experiencing Jesus through the gifts and talents he has given each of us. How are others going to cross your path if you are not ON the path?  ~Brenda

cc: hickory hardsspiritcrabble –


Posted by: wordofthevine | December 6, 2015

When Holiness Means that You are Not the One!

I recently attended a conference on caring for those with Alzheimer’s. The presenter was a very compassionate person as well as a gifted acaring-for-elderly-parentsnd engaging speaker. I am sure that her abundance of joy and energy grew from her ability to use her gifts and charisms to their fullest. It was a day well spent; filled with tips and strategies that were built on love.

At one point I remembered thinking how lucky her parents were to have her in their lives… to help them live until they die; rather than spending life waiting to die. On a personal level, she shared that even though her own dad had attended her conferences and knew what she had to offer (as a nurse and as an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s), it was not she who he turned to for assistance as he aged.

All families have strained relationships and even though you are able to work through issues and forgive; the past often cannot be forgotten and in some cases, remains a barrier to having the perfect relationship with everyone you love. Her advice to those in the room was…you are off the hook. Do not beat yourself up if you do not help, even though you may be the logical and most qualified person.

These may be wise and accurate words, but for those with a tender heart; whose gifts are caring and nurturing, it is difficult to sit on the sideline and watch. For my sister who once was a nurse and who may be more qualified than me to care for my dad who has Alzheimer’s, these words do not ease her pain of not being the caregiver-of-choice for dad. However, her gifts will be the grace needed to help the father of her close friend who is battling cancer. God put her in the lives of those He wanted her to touch with her gifts and charism.  It is not hers to question or doubt.

Last year, my 104 year grandmother (who lived 3 hours away) did not die alone; my aunt and other volunteers remained by her side till the end. It was a comfort to know someone was with her. I only wish it could have been me. As a Hospice Volunteer, I occasionally sit with total strangers so they too, will not die alone.  I may not have been able to use my gifts with my grandmother but I was able to use them with a member of God’s family. The conference speaker was not able to use her gifts for her own father; yet many like my own father, benefited greatly from her gift shared with me at the conference.

It is a very humbling experience to be in the presence of Christ through the people we serve. Even more so to trust and go where He calls us, rather than where WE think we need to be.  ~Brenda

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 30, 2015

Cyber Monday Renamed “Transcendent Monday” for a Purpose!

thanksgiving15Today is Cyber Monday, an online super shopping day which is designed to super charge our spending towards Christmas. What about your walk with God? How are you trying to super charge your prayerful actions in Advent as you spiritually move towards Christmas? I’m not just talking about how to incorporate more prayer in your life. A new, growing edge for me is to integrate my faith/prayer with my life. I am trying to make my practical actions of relating to others, a prayer and an off shoot of prayer. I am remembering St. James’ adage, “Faith with out works is dead.”

We’ve all just celebrated Thanksgiving with many of us encountering our extended families during the celebration. While you can’t pick your family like you do your friends, how did you choose to relate to those that you struggle with. Maybe I’m making an assumption here, but I think most of us have certain family members that take more energy for us to relate with. How did prayer allow you to be unglued from your own perspectives to see issues and life through the eyes of these challenging people? Most want to experience that they belong, that in their wrinkles and struggles, others are willing to hang in there with them.

I am reminding myself these very things. I am in the middle of supporting my elderly mother’s move to a senior apartment. My brothers had different ideas than I about how to address mom’s needs. She has a value of letting “the boys” be in charge so I felt frustrated in sharing my perspectives. I tend to talk things out, to process thoughts and feelings, while my brothers are “doers” and couldn’t understand the need to work any relationship dynamics out so we can proceed together as a team to address Mom’s needs. I decided to let go, let mom move ahead with the boys’ plans for her as she seemed to desire and to show her support, even though I felt hurt by the interaction.

We want to work on ourselves and our reactions here so that these people can experience the fruits of our prayer as loving action through us. Who knows, we might be right next to them in heaven and we want to be alright with that, even happy for them. They helped us buff off rough edges to  our loving here on Earth and our undue need for control. We need to be grateful for them if our goal is fullness of life here and in the age to come! These are the thoughts that I am reminding myself on this Cyber-Monday, which I am renaming Transcendent Monday! ~ Mary


Posted by: wordofthevine | November 21, 2015

Letting Yourself Get Lost in the Word!

Six owordofGodr seven years ago, my husband and I participated in a 21-week bible study that followed the story line through the old and new testaments. It was a rich and engaging experience that brought the Mass alive for us and fueled a hunger for more. Because we were the leaders for the study, we were obligated to read every last page AND prepare personal responses to the reflection questions. Some of the reading assignments were quite lengthy and time consuming and really took the fun out of the journey through the bible. I felt pushed to complete it rather than let myself be lost in thought with Him. But, what were the authors suppose to do? The class was already more than 5 months long…a commitment most won’t sign up for. Shortening the readings would lengthen the commitment to participate in the class…a definite barrier to most.

I recently bought a Didache Bible which contains comments based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the front of the book, it suggested reading the Word until something really speaks to you, stop, and spend time in contemplation…Lectio Divina.
It was once explained to me, that the repetition of a word, phrase or the retelling of an event, indicated importance that demanded my attention. One example being John 21:15…’feed my sheep’…repeated three times. My habit of prayer includes the Divine Office, reading the reflections for the daily reading from The Word Among Us, sometimes a chapter from a book written by a Catholic author and always ending with me picking up where I left off as I work my way through the bible.  Nearly every day my attention is drawn to a word or phrase that is repeated. Sometimes, like John 21:15, the repetition comes in one chapter of the bible. Often times, the word or phrase will speak to me in two or more of the pieces I spent time on in prayer. Other times, the word appears in everyday life…a song on the radio, a message from my boss or a news clip on TV and I am drawn back into contemplation of an earlier time in prayer.
As an educator of adult learners, I know that allowing time for reflection is a best practice. I also know that it is often hard to get adults to come to classes because time is scarce in their busy lives. Personally, I know that unless I spend QUIET, uninterrupted time alone with the Word, I will never hear Him speak.  As much as I loved that first study we participated in, I wonder if a better way to evangelize might be to teach people how to know God by encouraging them to read the bible…giving them a list of the books and chapters to read, which brings the story to life. Teaching and modeling  Lectio Divina; and providing quiet uninterrupted space and time that will allow them to hear and recognize his voice when He speaks to them. ~Brenda
Posted by: wordofthevine | October 13, 2015

The 10 Commandments

dad.jpgPinned on the bulletin board behind my desk is The 10 Commandments of Alzheimer’s Communication. #1 – Never argue, instead agree; #2 – Never reason, instead divert; and the hardest one for me to keep…#5 – Never say “remember”, instead reminisce.

Dad has lost his “filter” and like a child, can be brutally honest at times. Last night, as I tucked him in, he was distracted and a bit upset. He wanted to know why he doesn’t know how much money he has. “Don’t I get that thing from the bank?” – Yes. “Is it addressed to me?” – Yes. “Well, how come I never see it?” Typically at this point I would break commandment #5 and say, “Don’t you remember….” Of course he doesn’t remember! Why else would we be having this conversation!

We have this discussion once or twice each month. At first I was quite offended and hurt by the accusation. I would go and retrieve the old statements and show them to him. I even had him sign the statements after he opened them, so later he could see his name written on it to prove that he had seen it. The joke was on me…he would see his signature and then ask, “How did my signature get on that piece of paper from the bank?” Every time I show him his bank statement, he would hand it to me and admit that he doesn’t understand it. I would give a detailed explanation and he would then ask, “So, how much do I have?” I ask him what it is he needs to buy. Sometimes he did have a want. Most times he didn’t know what he needed; and…around and around we go.

So, last night, when the conversation about money started (again for me and anew for him), I agreed (commandment #1): “yes, you get the statement from the bank”; and “yes, it comes addressed to you.”

I then shift to commandment #2 – “How about we look at them tomorrow?” This time, I did not break commandment #5. AND, the good news: he woke this morning not remembering last night’s conversation.

Helping an aging parent takes a great deal of patience and can be the source of much frustration. At times it is like working, loving and protecting a 3 year old. It occurred to me how truly patient God must be with me. He knows the plan he has for me; he provides me with much light for the path I must follow and still I struggle and frequently break His Commandments. This moment of insight gives me strength to carry on to I have peace knowing He is with me when the path seems too hard.  ~Brenda

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 25, 2015

Learning to Live Like we are Dying!

One of the things that I do as a hospice chaplain is to help people review their lives, to find the themes and the values that have added meaning to their lives.Most often, they are not worrying about surface concerns, buying a bigger house or car, getting an advancement at work, redecorating their hopope-francis-chair-msguse. While these everyday concerns play out often in our minds, at the end of life, short of having enough money for a funeral, most concerns center around making a difference in the world and in the lives of other people. While having enough food, clothing and housing to meet our needs are undeniably important issues, our lives involve more than this for ourselves. We want to give to others and receive what we need through the lens of faith.

This change in vantage point reminds me of what St. Ignatius of Loyola used as part of a rule for discernment of spirits when we have to make a decision, consider yourself on your death bed and see what you would decide about this concern from this vantage point. In many ways, this vantage point is what attracts me to work as a chaplain for hospice. Many concerns fall away when we are faced with the reality of the end of our lives. We pick out and decide things consistent with our deepest values rather than fleeting concerns. I think that this reorientation of our priorities is what our faith in God is meant to engender in us. Isn’t this way of being what attracts so many to Pope Francis. He lives in a way consistent with the Gospel rather than what culture would dictate to him based on his position as pontiff. Rather than drive around New York or Washington DC in a limousine, he transverses the cities in a small fiat.

I started thinking about these ideas at morning Mass with Father’s blessing. He said, “Let us go forth to live the mystery of our Faith in the context of our lives.” Let us learn from Pope Francis’ example and from the perspectives we would take at the end of life to live in line with the values of Jesus. Rather than focus on small self focused concerns, let us look outward to make a difference in the lives of people who  need a touch around us.

What about you? Where are you directing your energies today: towards the mystery of faith in the context of your life, towards ultimate concerns.  We want to learn like a song I heard on the radio, we want ” to live we were dying.”~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 18, 2015

How Do We Use Our Words for the Glory of God?

Besides being a mom, a wife and a friend, I am also a theologian and a chaplain for Hospice. Yesterday I visited an elderly womathCAFV186Rn who really touched me. She was in her 90’s and in a care facility and she was really struggling with a severe breathing condition. Her nurse warned me when I went in that she was awake but was sleeping 18 hours of everyday. Her body was shutting down and that she talked really slow because she didn’t have enough breath to speak in long sentences.

I went into her room and was immediately touched by the loving presence emanating from her. Yes, she spoke haltingly, gasping for air in between breaths but she pushed herself and told me all about her deep love for God…that “God was always at her side.” She tried to offer each breath and even each word to Him for his glory. All of her life she tried to find God in her circumstances. She had loved her husband of many years who had died recently. She told me that she tried to love God even in the midst of deep grief in losing her husband. She said, “I don’t have any children. I guess I wasn’t lucky enough to have them.” With that, a twinkle appeared in her eyes. I could tell that she would have welcomed kids, but this too, was part of her obedience to the providence of God and part of her life cross.

What about you? If you only had a few more words left in this life, how would you use them? Would they be to praise God and offer what you could to reflect God’s love for you? Let’s be like my little lady. Let’s not waste opportunities to share our love for God. ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 15, 2015

Let God’s Word Surprise You! Ideas from Pope Francis

Because Pope Francis is arriving in the US in about two weeks, I think that it is a good idea to take up some of his ideas and learn about his prioritipope+francis+happyes. Today, when I reviewed The Joy of the Gospel , an apostolic exhortation from 2014 by Pope Francis, I read something that changed my trust in God and awareness of my faith.

In the first chapter, paragraph 22, Francis wrote: “God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (MK 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.”

If we really took these words to heart, wouldn’t this change how we approach our lives and the expectations we have of our faith. We are to be taken out of our comfort zone with authentic faith. We aren’t to stay safe and circle the wagons but engage the world and people around us and let God, the Word Made Flesh take root in us. God can do this even when we are sleeping.

Maybe I particularly like these ideas of the ultimate power of the Word because I just went through a period in my own life when I encountered some set backs. I got discouraged and even though I kept praying, my faith felt cold. It wasn’t until a friend listened to me and then spoke God’s word to me to encourage me. She said, “Mary, get back up in the saddle. These obstacles, the Evil One is using to bring you down. You are doing what God wants of you and that is why you are being bothered by discouragement.” Her words, which God inspired her to share with me, shook my out of my complacency. They took root and set me to flight. God was working in me even when I felt like I was sleeping. Now, I will take God at his words, that he shared through Francis, that once God’s word sprouts, surprising things can happen, things even outside of our own reckoning. ~Mary

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