Thursday, July 29, 2021

why I need saints in my life

As I look over the course of my life, it’s unmistakable how I’ve been blessed by the example and presence of people I can only describe as holy. These every day saints have graced my spirit and shaped my life. 


There’s my grandmother Josefita, offering prayers for the needy nightly as she prayed the rosary. Kneeling in front of her life-size statue of St. Ann and Mary, I could hear her soft voice down the hall, “Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo…”


My heart carries tenderly my friend Pat who walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage with me. Although she died of brain cancer eight years ago, there are many “Pat-isms” that I remember regularly. Perhaps dearest of all, I miss hearing the way she proclaimed “amen” with her whole being every time she received the Eucharist. 


But there are other holy people whom I have never met who have been lights in my faith journey. Declared saints by the universal Church, these holy ones are also members of my go-to “Saints Posse.”


For example, Teresa of Ávila and her well-known phrase, “Solo Dios basta, God alone suffices,” part of a poem that has been with me since my youth:

“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass away, God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”


Praying with Pat in the visitor’s room at Teresa’s Carmel, the place where Teresa and John of the Cross prayed together, remains one of those heaven-on-earth pivotal moments of my life. Yes, solo Dios basta!


Perhaps the most surprising member of my personal Saint Posse is Blessed Stanley Rother, the subject of one of my biographies. 


That a priest from Okarche, Oklahoma, martyred in Guatemala, could bond with a refugee mother of four and grandmother of 13 from Pinar del Río, Cuba, is truly God’s sense of humor!


Blessed Stan was martyred in his rectory in Santiago Atitlán 40 years ago this July 28, a servant of Love who chose to remain with his suffering parishioners during Guatemala’s civil war. But it’s how America’s first martyr lived his life that inspires me. 


If anyone can model a call to holiness in the midst of our very ordinary lives it is the farmer from Okarche who humbly served his people as a parish priest. And he would tell us that it all begins with our willingness to say, “yes,” to whatever – and whomever -- God places in front of us. 


I need saints. 


They connect me to othersacross time and geography—and constantly remind me that I’m not alone. I have a cloud of witnesses that, like me, long for God. 


And their passionate pleading on my behalf is akin to the mother I met years ago whose son was on death row. When the Governor of Texas refused to see her in person to hear her plea for a stay of his execution, she set up a tent across the street from the Governor’s mansion and invited the local press, the bishop, and anyone who would listen, to join her in prayer and in peaceful demonstration.  Who doesn’t need this sort of passionate intercession?


Saints understand just how difficult it can be to seek holiness, to live for God. They are saints because they never gave up trying, and they show me the way.

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This column was first published in the July-August issue of Liguorian Magazine, as the regular  column, “Just Live It



Thursday, May 13, 2021

as you might have heard, it's the year of St. Joseph!


The platform that I’ve been using for the past nine years – Blogger – is doing away with the “follow by email” widget that allows you (if you’re interested!) to receive my Day by Day with Maria Blog as an email. The bottom line is that, come July, you will NOT be receiving my blog as an email whenever I have a new post.  


I am pondering what options I have available, but so far nothing stands out. The most likely scenario is that I have to change sites… so, stay tuned, and I will keep you posted! 


Repeat after me… Change is good change is good change is good change is good change is good…


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"To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth." 


~St.Teresa of Avila on her devotion to St. Joseph



When my son and his wife had their first baby, one of my closest friends enjoyed referring to them as my holy family. “How is your holy family?” “When will you see your holy family again?” When they had twins a couple of years later, she switched to calling them my holy trinity of grandkids. 


Rather than detracting from the theological significance of these concepts, using these meaningful faith labels to describe my personal family brought the ideas to life in a unique way for me. 


My son’s family certainly was – and remains – a symbol of all “holy families,” ordinary mothers and fathers striving to live holy lives as they put into practice their faith within the quotidian and ordinary work of our lives. 


In Patris corde (With a Father’s Heart), an apostolic letter which Pope Francis wrote against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Holy Father emphasized that our shared experience of the pandemic has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience, perseverance, faithfulness, and offer daily hope to those around them.


In this way, said Pope Francis, they resemble Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.”


I find especially profound the images where St. Joseph is depicted actively taking care of his family: The flight into Egypt; walking to Bethlehem; Teaching Jesus carpentry. There is one illustration, in particular, that I place prominently over my mantle every Christmas season. It depicts Mary in the background, enjoying much-needed rest after giving birth, and Joseph holding newborn Jesus in his arms, lovingly gazing at him.  These are moments in the life of the holy family that I can connect with, instances where a mother and father quietly and faithfully live out their parenting vocation.


In his reflection about Joseph of Nazareth and “the mission entrusted to him by God’s providence,” Joseph was for Jesus “the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father,” Pope Francis concluded. “He watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” 


To serve in the shadows, while becoming earthly shadows of God for our families, this is the call for each of us, whatever our season of life. 


And in this we grow in trust, like Joseph, whose every Gospel story concludes with: he gets up, takes Jesus and his mother, and does what God commanded of him.


St. Joseph, please pray for us, that we, too, may get up, 

serve our loved ones, and do the will of the Father.


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This column was first published in the May 2021 issue of Liguorian Magazine, as the regular  column, “Just Live It

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

we are an Easter people


Years ago, I traveled to Turkey on assignment with an interfaith group of Catholic and Muslim faith leaders. Not only did we visit historical and Biblical sites throughout the country, we were also invited into family homes where we broke bread and shared faith with one another. 


For me, their open, loving, generous hospitality was truly humbling. And disarming! 


The questions we normally have about those we label as “Other” were being asked. But this time, they were being asked of me. 


I was the “Other.”


Why are there different Christian religions? Do all Christian families go to church? What do Christians believe? How do they practice their faith? As they asked question after question, genuinely desiring to understand a culture and a faith radically different from theirs, I could see and tangibly grasp our common humanity. 


I was also struck by how easily we separate ourselves from what we don’t understand—or are ignorant about. 


A different language. A different tradition. A different history. A different faith. A different experience, and of course, a different political view. 


We easily slip into an “us” versus “them” mentality and ignore our shared reality. 


Truth is, we all live what we know. 


We all die, eventually. 


We are all, literally, in this together. 


And I understood that I share a common vision with believers who are devoted, committed and faithful to their own faith experience, no matter what their religion.


For example, their call to prayer--their commitment to stop and pray throughout the day, made me look for ways that I could incorporate prayers into my own daily routine. Saying the angelus at noon. Contemplating the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours Night Prayer as a family every night. 


I was genuinely surprised by their love, admiration and respect for Mother Mary, and this has given me much to ponder. 


In Ephesus, Mary’s house is a pilgrimage site for Muslims and Christians alike. It is holy ground, a place where we all gather to honor the mother of Jesus. How can *I* grow in my relationship with Mary of Nazareth? Can I incorporate and share with my family a holy reverence for the mother of our Lord?


One of the main concerns of the parents that we met was how to pass on their faith to their children, and what kind of world they will inherit from us. Like me, these parents ultimately pray and hope that their children have a vibrant, personal and intimate relationship with the God who created us. 


As we discern what it means to live what Pope Francis calls, “the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity,” the challenge remains not to lose who we are and what we believe as Catholics-- under the guise of unity. 


Instead, we are asked to live our own faith fully, to strive to become saints. 


For Catholic Christians, this means being Easter people, who believe our faith transforms all, even death. 

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Note: An edited version of this post was published in the “Just Live It” column of the April edition of Liguorian Magazine


Monday, May 3, 2021

God is always calling



Michael and I were college sweethearts, and married right after graduation. We also began expanding our family straightway. 


As the youngest in my family of origin and with little experience around babies, I tackled parenting as I would another college class. I researched every subject, from nutrition, sleep habits, growth charts, spirituality, to education and social development. 


It seemed reasonable that someday I would stop feeling deficient and inexperienced as a parent and, at the very least, grow in confidence.


Looking back, I chuckle at my youthful idealism and naivety. At 60, I’m still waiting for that clarity in how to be a confident parent to my now-adult children! 


What I received, however, through God’s abundant grace, was a profound understanding of the truths that were right in front of me, foundations that continue to color my life today -- as a wife, mother, and now grandmother, to my growing Tribe. 


First and above all, I cannot do it alone. In those early years, I was blessed to not only have grandparents to assist and support me, but also a reliable community of faith-filled women with whom I shared values and faith, and a desire to serve God in our quotidian lives. In them, I recognized and experienced what my friend wisely labeled, God-in-the-skin.


I also learned that I could not give to my four children what I didn’t have myself. In essence, I could not teach them the importance of prayer if I was not living a prayer-full life. I could not pass on the importance of service and love of neighbor, if they did not see us living those values daily. 


It’s like the flight attendant says, place the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. 


The most important lesson was quite simple. No matter how much I loved them or how much time or effort I put into my parenting, I would inevitably make mistakes. I would – and did – royally mess up. 


Thankfully, God does not expect me to be perfect, only to be faithful. Whether in parenting or living, when I pursue my efforts with God at my side, I can be confident that God’s grace will transform everything through forgiveness, mercy and redemption. 


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Note: An edited version of this post was published in the “Just Live It” column of the March edition of Liguorian Magazine

Thursday, February 18, 2021

because we need a patron saint of the anxious



When our middle daughter was in college, she spent Spring semester of her junior year studying at Queen Mary University in London, and we visited her. It was a charmed trip with many unforgettable moments. 


A highlight for me was traveling to the coastal region of Norfolk and visiting the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, made famous by its history with Catholic mystic Julian of Norwich. 


Although we don’t know exact dates, Julian was born in December of 1342, and likely lived until 1430. At the age of 30, as Julian describes, “God sent me a bodily sickness” so grave that she expected to die. 

A priest brought her a crucifix, and Julian looked at Jesus and was healed. That’s when she experienced sixteen “showings,” messages from God. She spoke candidly with Christ on the cross, even asking Him questions.


These intimate, direct conversations with the Lord are Dame Julian’s greatest gift. In her best-known conversation, Christ told her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well. And thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well.” 


Julian’s revelations took place during the span of a few hours, but it took her 40 or more years to ponder and write, Revelations of Divine Love. For the final 25 years of her long life, Julian became a hermit, living in a cell attached to the Church of St. Julian--and most likely taking the name of Julian from that saint. 


Dame Julian, as she was called in her time, received frequent visitors seeking spiritual instruction, “for the anchoress was an expert in such things and could give good advice,” Margery Kempe explained in her autobiography. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, Julian “had become a mother to many.”


She is fittingly hailed as “patron saint of the anxious” by author Hannah Matis. “If we can bring ourselves to believe her… we can become more aware of the quiet, insidious extent of our habitual anxieties and how they have unconsciously affected our understanding of Christ. Julian challenges us to ask ourselves how much good of God are we really prepared to believe.”


Julian’s words comfort me, but also persistently provoke me. 

The confident trust she professes in God and in God’s movement in life’s details, is not romantic optimism or positivity. Hers is a confidence grounded in reality, as life truly is. 


It is an affirmation that, yes, all things will be well—not because they will turn out as I want them to, but because no matter what comes next, God is with me. 

All is grace. God transfigures all, converts all, even suffering and anxiety, into grace and goodness. 


Julian’s confident trust that “all shall be well” is grounded on acknowledging God and God’s care for us, in our particular reality. She reminds me that this God of Love speaks to us, reveals Himself to us, precisely in the most intimate, quotidian details of my life. 


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This column was first published in the February 2021 issue of Liguorian Magazine, as the regular  column, “Just Live It

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Notes on the icons / images above – image 1: Lady Julian of Norwich, icon by Anna Dimascio; image 2: This quote from Dame Julian has been taped to my bathroom mirror for years!; image 3:  Dame Julian and Margery Kemp, icon by Brother Leon of Walsingham