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

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 10, 2015

Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families

When I consider this upcoming exciting event for American Catholics: that Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia this month for thpope francis 2015e World Meeting of Families September 22-25, 2015, I am thrilled. America is a lead country. What happens here spreads to other parts of the world for good or bad. We have a responsibility to hear what the Pope and the World Meeting of Family highlights to us. We need to  live our faith deeply and dramatically for others, and not simply for our own holiness, especially when it comes to issues involving the family and marriage between one man and one woman.

Through the film industry of the United States and the shear appeal of our life here for many, people from many parts of the world are attracted to the United States and our life here.I am reminded of a conversation that I had with one of the foreign exchange students that my family hosted. When I asked the adolescent girl why she chose to come to the United States for a year of high school, she answered me, “Because what you have here is so appealing. Better than anywhere else in the world. We all want what you have and live here. When I attended class the first day, I was amazed that it really looked like the schools in the movies.”

While we await the message of Pope Francis, let us take stock of how we are living our faith and more importantly, how we are impacting in real life, the people and structure of society. We need to pray for priests, but even more, we need to pray for on fire lay people who can carry what they celebrate in the Sacraments, out to the world to bring renewal.

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 7, 2015

Today, the Nativity of Mary

Today, let us celebrate the birthday of Our Lady with renewed practical zeal. We want to celebrate the impact of her life but even more, celebrate what her life nativity400reveals and offers to us as a renewed reality here and now. Mary is often called “the Mother of the Living” because she shows us what is freely offered to us in our human life. As the “New Eve” her conception and birth help us all be more aware of the fact that Jesus is the Son of the Father of both Heaven and Earth. Mary shows us that we don’t want to grow closer to God, more holy, by denying life here and now and moving into a “Catholic bubble” but by embracing all that we are body and soul, life now as a foretaste and bridge to heaven.
Like Mary, we want to move towards God with all that we are, our energies, our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions. We want to understand our faith, not as a process of following all the rules, of simply being orthodox, but rather, as a way of life where the fire of God bubbles up from inside us because we are made in God’s image. Mary knows deeper than anyone that God can be alive inside us. When the holy fire ignites within us, we become able to receive grace anew, as Mary did, and available to bring God’s healing living light to other people around us.
We want to ask ourselves, in pursuing truth, God, have we become hardened by orthodoxy rather than a living flame of its beauty. Think about this when you attend and engage the Mass or study the Faith. Are you more concerned with wearing a mantilla at Mass and doing more holy hours or do you seek to live fully the mission and vocation that God has given you?
We have to take what we experience alone with God and take it outward to the World. We each has received a unique unrepeatable mission that we received as seeds at the time of our conception and birth and as a summons that we each must bring to birth in the World. The World awaits our gift.Let us proclaim like Mary, on the celebration of her birthday, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name…The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49,53).
Let us make our lives a living prayer of mission by praying the prayer penned by Christopher West in his book, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization:
Mary, set ablaze with God’s Eros, pray for us that we would not fear the Fire that Christ, your son, came to cast upon the earth. Teach us, how to burn.

Posted by: wordofthevine | April 14, 2015

The Power of the Eucharist: Grafting us to Jesus!

Thought for today by Elizabeth Erk

We are sheep ranchers. 3f622adfdc18c44d016278868ffbda5aMy husband is the third generation to raise sheep on the Erk Ranch in South Dakota which is a centennial ranch. I love it and I learn a lot every day. It is such a blessing to see firsthand the natural order and instincts that God gives His creatures.

We have an intern and we were discussing the observations we have made and things we have learned when grafting an orphan lamb to a ewe. The ewes fight off lambs that are not their own. In the past, the ranchers would skin the lamb that died and tie the skin to the orphan lamb so the lamb would smell like the lamb that belonged to the ewe. (This is one of my husband’s least favorite things to do.) Now he uses perfumed spray and sprays the ewe’s nose and the lamb, and puts the lamb in a pen with the ewe. The ewe will usually fight the lamb for about 3 days. My husband has to get in the pen and hold the ewe so the lamb can be fed. After 3 days of nursing on the ewe the lamb gets to know the smell of the ewe and the sound of her and the lamb starts to smell like the ewe’s milk. The ewe usually adopts the lamb and knows the smell and bawl of the lamb. We move them to a bigger pen to watch them for a few days to make sure the ewe looks for the lamb and the lamb can find her to nurse. After another few days, if the ewe takes the lamb, they are turned out to pasture with the other sheep. This is such a blessing to watch. The lambs do so much better when they are with a ewe than from the bottle, and the ewe can raise the lamb.

Today when I was thinking about grafting a lamb onto a ewe, I thought of the gift of the Eucharist that Jesus sends to us. The Eucharist: the Heavenly food that Jesus sends down from Heaven so that we will know the Father though Him. We consume the precious body and blood of Our Lord. Just think of it. We smell like Him. We know Him and the Father and we will be sure to know how to find Him always because He has nourished us with His body and blood. I know this is just the surface of what the Eucharist does for us. As adopted sons and daughters of God, God sees us as natural sons and daughters. What else can nature tell us about how God loves us and what he gives us through the Eucharist. ~ Beth

Posted by: wordofthevine | April 10, 2015

Jesus near us in the Eucharist: Really!!!

Have you ever noticed yourself falling into a routine attitude when you attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. You go through the motions but find yourself distracted by things ofNTQ1NDU4MjUz_o_14082011-holy-eucharist this world. I remember being startled at Mass that we were already at the consecration time for I had been day dreaming about what I was going to cook after Mass. I didn’t want to do this but I had to work at self disciple and focus during this most heavenly connection, being at Mass.

Some things that help me stay focused is to read the writings of the Saints, or those in the process of becoming a saint, to learn from their musings. I do this to replace some of their thoughts during Mass and outside of Mass for my own distractions. I picked up Irresistibly Drawn to the Eucharist: Conchita Cabrera de Armida’s Most Beautiful Writings on the Eucharist edited by Juan Gutierrez Gonzalez, M.Sp.S. Venerable Conchita was a wife, a mystic, a mother of nine children who lived through the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. She received words from Jesus about the Eucharist which really inspire me.

Conchita asked Jesus one day why he asked or even implored people to receive the Eucharist regularly, even daily. Jesus responded: “The aim is always love, because  I could not order in any other way, I would not be able to. In my infinite gentleness, I order mankind to be happy…I order him to EAT me, because I am consumed by the burning desire to be near him, joined to him to make him happy. I want him to share in my divine and human perfection, to make him holy, and this makes me beside myself as it were, because the Man-God’s infinite love for mankind is stupendous, my daughter! Souls who have been listening for centuries and centuries, souls who eat this body and drink this blood, they are so few! If they only knew what they stood to gain by receiving me, not only through love but also because of the benefits of union with me, the whole world would receive Communion every day. One of the greatest torments of eternity, daughter, is not have made the most of this Eucharistic treasure.”

Ask yourself: what do I focus on in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Do I really believe that the graces and presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is real, a force that transforms me? Think about yourself on your death bed. What will you be grateful for and what will help you form a true ability to receive Jesus fully? Make it a habit to focus on Jesus, like He was a real person in your midst, but even more, the one who truly knows you and who brings you the unique remedy for your soul. He is not indifferent to this but desires with all His heart to come within you to make you like Him in order to enjoy union with you now and for all eternity! ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | March 29, 2015

Preparing for Holy Week?

When we think about it, if we want to go deeper in the spiritual life, what we have to do is learn to connect our beliefs to what we are living. We have to find the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus something that is alive and impactin1239396193f5Mn22g our own lives. Stop and think. Almost everyday, sometimes in small and ordinary ways, we encounter the cross. We have to wait patiently for the car in front of us to merge over on the freeway. We have to listen to a co-worker or a family member as they complete their sentences and thoughts rather than insert our own words into the conversation. We have to welcome the way others do things or their ideas that may differ from our own for we have to let up our own need to control or be right. We have to manage our own feelings so we can honestly react to others and not our own concerns for them. I am remembering about this as I walk alongside the teenagers and young adults in my family. In fact, as I wrote this I had to remove the word my from the sentence…”as I walk alongside my teenagers and young adults. The people in my family are not mine for they are given to me for a time to nurture and love but ultimately they are Gods. God inspires them too for family life is a cross for others by working with your own needs that may be out of balance and impinge on the legitimate needs of others? How can you let the ordinary moments, that cause you to hold yourself back, put you in touch with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus which is a real time force for good in your life. Ask God for a new awareness of just how real the Paschal Mystery is for you today! ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | March 26, 2015

At Our Last Breath…Finding Ourselves Surrounded By the Light!

Besides offering spiritual direction in person and via SKYPE and traveling to offer retreats, I work as a part-time chaplain for a community hospice. I couOXYGEN VOLUME 13nsel the dying and their families and I often attend them as they are dying. I am remembering one experience that I had sitting at the bedside of a woman with her family as she was dying. At this 11th hour, people often have a foot in both worlds, here on Earth and in Heaven. This woman was talking to her grandmother, who had died many years before and she was seeing the Virgin Mary who must have been accompanying her at this hour of her death. I was remembering one of our conversations as I was witnessing this sacred moment. As she was dying, the woman was grasping the large Miraculous Medal that I had given her. I recalled in our past conversation when I handed her the medal that she was remarking about one of her family members who had left the Catholic Faith. The woman was sharing how beautiful Catholicism was to her and how blessed she had always felt to be Catholic and to have the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist.

As she was dying, as I was sitting with her now, she began to become fearful as she talked to the circle of her family that were apparently joining her as she was making the transition from life on Earth. All of a sudden, she looked up in distress and proclaimed, “But, I don’t want to see him or talk to him. She seemed to recoil from something or someone. I reassured her family that many times as a person passes they are moving towards a great and intensely loving light. Sometimes, we see the fruits of our own life on Earth with uncanny clarity which can be painful.

I began to consider purgatory as I witnessed this woman’s distress at the moment of passing. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. says in The Three Ages of the Interior Life, that we have to develop “proximate disposition…to receive the light of glory immediately after death without passing through purgatory. Purgatory is a punishment which presupposes a sin that could have been avoided, and an insufficient satisfaction that could have been completed if we had accepted with better dispositions the sufferings of the present life. No one will be detained in purgatory except for sins he could have avoided or for negligence in making reparation for them. Normally, purgatory should be spent in this life while meriting, while growing in love, instead of after death without merit.”

While, I would never attempt to judge the quality of this woman’s dispositions towards God, for in her life she had endured many sufferings and continued to love God, her movement to avoid something at her death made me reflect. What is the quality of my own soul and how rectified am I in going towards the Cross to love those who have hurt me? I was left with a desire to cultivate a generous heart and to welcome suffering, not seek it, when it comes to me. All of this could allow me and each one of us to hold nothing back from the Lord, to freely entrust ourselves to His merciful love here and now and at the hour of our death. What is your plan to grow in holiness the remainder of Lent this year. When we learn to love and offer the present moment of internal rub or pain for the very one causing it, we grow in merit and make up for many sins. That way, at our last breath, we will not fear seeing anyone! Let us go full steam ahead in the spiritual life, trusting not in our own merits, but in the merciful and abiding love of God. ~ Mary

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