Who Are The Saints We Turn To?

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When I was young, I loved to read about Joan of Arc. It was many years before I discovered she was a saint. It just wasn’t part of my growing up to associate her with religion; not really. I know she talked to G-d; I mean, so did I! I wasn’t Christian so I didn’t grow up attending church. But I knew Joan of Arc. She was a part of my girlhood, like Anne Frank, another young girl, someone I could relate to who also died too young. These were my heroes.

In my recent years of finding Catholicism and spirituality, I’ve added to my “collection” of saints and saintly people. I love hearing that saints are just like us. I’ve also learned that they are an outgrowth of their times. Sometimes their lives are huge and important and sometimes their deaths are, but in a lot of times, they are just ordinary people who do or preach extraordinary things. I know that today is All Saints Day, but I was still taken aback by the number of times I was called by the saints in the last two weeks.

Once I put this topic on my calendar a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about it and the saints I look to in my life. They do change depending on the circumstances. I didn’t start reading on any of them in particular, but I looked at the saints for the day, seeing which feast days were coming up and thought a lot of who I felt the closest to.

Throughout October, I had been attending weekly zoom presentations on Diversity in Spirituality. Last week’s lecture was given by Dr. Kim Harris of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Her focus was on Black Americans, their experience, their worship, and their saints (and lack thereof). In addition to music and talk of the ancestors, Dr. Harris also asked the following question:

In our troubled and tumultuous times, what kinds of saints do we need or what kinds of saints do we need to be?

I was stunned into silence. That is very nearly the exact question I put on my calendar, the one that I’ve been contemplating on for the past two weeks, and here it was as our breakout room assignment!

What kinds of saints do we need in our lives right now indeed?

In conjunction to that synchronism and along with all of these thought provoking happenings, yesterday, I also attended a scheduled Day of Reflection centered on walking and praying with the saints. I had been looking forward to this day for several weeks and it did not disappoint. It also led me in my continuation of thinking about the saints and who I feel the closest to.

This was a question that I had been giving a lot of thought to, although in my mind I hadn’t phrased it quite like that at all. I’ll share a few thoughts with you.

I’ve mentioned Joan of Arc earlier. I was always enthralled by her hearing voices and following as well as being able to command an army. Maybe it was because I grew up in the feminist wave of the 70s that it seemed impossible to ignore and easy to admire.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a newer, local saint. Her birthplace is in upstate New York at the village where the North American Jesuit Martyrs died although they weren’t there at the same time. The spring where St. Kateri was baptized is there, and I am hoping to be in good enough shape to go through the woods to the spring sometime in 2021.

St. Elen is my personal saint, the patron of travelers and roads. I chose her for my saint’s name for my confirmation in 2014. Upon finding her, I found so many things about her that I could relate to as well as having been in her homeland, literally where she walked the earth although I did not know it at the time. I was fortunate to be able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales in 2017, and it still gives me pause when I remember my times there.

Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein draw me back to my Jewishness and my Jewish upbringing. I know that Maximilian Kolbe wasn’t Jewish but he was killed in the camps in Nazi Germany as was Edith Stein. It reminds me that others (in Edith Stein’s case) have walked a similar path to mine.

I was drawn to Mary, Untier of Knots through Pope Francis’ devotion, and it has only grown stronger over the years. There is something very familiar about untying knots as a mother from shoelaces to necklaces to yarn and in needlework, not to mention the untying and smoothing that goes along metaphorically.

St. Dafydd is, of course, the patron saint of Wales, a place that I feel connected to since I first set foot there in 1987.

And finally, in this moment at least, Mary Magdalene. I didn’t know much about her; her life was co-opted a bit and confused with others, but what I do know and believe is that she followed Jesus from very early on. She was the first of his disciples to see him after his Resurrection, and she brought the word of his Resurrection to the apostles, becoming the first to bring the Holy Word of Jesus to others after his death. I love that she is the Apostle to the Apostles and that she is in history as someone who can possibly convert hearts to allow women priest and preachers.

Which saints are you drawn to during these difficult times of chaos and uncertainity?

Art is mine based on the song:
Saints Of God In Glory
Frank Brownstead · Bernadette Farrell · St. Thomas More Group, 1991.
(c)2020

Listen here.

Religious and Spiritual Resources (Updated 4/29/20)

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I was waiting to find resources for other religions, and I am still actively looking, Please forward anything that you think would be helpful and I will update this post as soon as I can. I do apologize for only having Christian sources at the moment. This post is meant to be multi-faith and interfaith.

I plan to share whatever reputable resources that I have for people self-isolating and quarantining at home.

Suggestions welcome. (POSTED/UPDATED 3/31/20)

Catholic/Christian

The Holy
Rosary
 

Letter from Pope Francis plus 2 New Prayers (to say with the rosary this May)
We’re All Monks Now
What the First Christians Can Teach Us About Missing Sacraments and Still Growing

Spiritual Act of Communion Coloring Page
See Brother Mickey McGrath’s Facebook Page for several coloring sheets for both children and adults

Faith at Home Resources from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany (NY) (including listings for live masses)

Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana offers a Daily Office. I believe they usually begin at 10am, but they will post a video to their Facebook, which I’ve linked.

Morning Prayer and Song with David Haas on his Facebook, daily at 8am CST

General Absolution allowed during Coronavirus Contagion (Pope Francis) – article from the National Catholic Reporter

A Prayer for Spiritual Communion (from RC Diocese of Albany)

Prayer Resources for use during the Coronavirus Pandemic (from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Ireland)Twitter

Give Us This Day – a monthly subscription with the daily prayers and much more. The Digital version is FREE during the coronavirus outbreak because many people cannot attend their daily/weekly masses.

Resources (several) on worship and prayer from Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. James Martin, SJ, Facebook, Twitter (He has a daily faith sharing at this time. See his Facebook for the exact time.

The Daily Examen with Fr. James Martin, SJ (podcast)

Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

A Gentle Suggestion for Lent (this is still so very good for our times now) from Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

Brother Mickey McGrath’s Art and Faith Chat (from March 26, 2020)

Prayer at Home

Celebrate Holy Week at Home

A Guide to Celebrating the Easter Triduum at Home

A Different Way to Have Liturgy at Home

Judaism/Jewish

Passover is in one weeks, and I’d like to add resources before then.

RUACH: Jewish emotional and spiritual support care providers

Everything You Need to Celebrate Passover in Quarantine (Chabad)

How to Do a Seder Alone

Quarantine Kaddish Service Contact Information

Coronavirus Resources and Inspiration (Chabad)

Chad Gadya (Jack Black)

Islam/Muslim

Ramadan begins April 24, and I would like to include Muslim resources before then.

My Easter Bag

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​It’s hard to believe that Easter was only one week ago. Most of my Holy Week was spent in church between morning prayer services, the parish community dinner, evening prayer and mass. There is a lot going on and a lot packed into the second half of the week following Palm Sunday. The three days of Holy Week prior to Easter Sunday is called the Triduum, which is basically one long service beginning on Holy Thursday with the sign of the Cross and ending at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night the same way. At our parish we have hospitality or receptions on Saturday morning and evening, the former in celebration of the lighting the Easter fire and the latter in celebration of welcoming the new members to the Catholic church through the RCIA program.

It’s very fulfilling and spiritual, but it’s long and it’s tiring. Since my first Vigil, one of my yearly customs is that I will bring a small tote bag along with my usual purse to carry a water, cough drops, tissues. I’ll add my worship booklet so I have it for the entire three days.

At some point during Holy Week, I’ll realize that I don’t really need my pocketbook if I toss my wallet and kindle and phone and other necessities into the tote bag. That way I only have one bag to carry and keep track of.

Genius, right?

Well, every year, I’m surprised by the time Saturday afternoon rolls around at how heavy this tote bag is. I don’t realize it’s getting heavier as I add things one at a time until the very end when I go to grab it out of the car, and it pulls me back in.

Here is a picture of it when I arrived at church for the lighting of the Easter fire on Saturday morning:

The inside of my Easter bag on Holy Saturday morning. (c)2019

It has my large wallet, kindle, hearing aids, extra batteries for the hearing aids, clipboard and pad if the urge to write grabs hold of me, a pen, packet of tissues, bag of cough drops, daily reflection book for Lent, cell phone, rosary, Triduum worship aid, any of the other worship aids that I’ve collected during the week, bottle of cold water, umbrella for the upcoming rain (it wasn’t raining when I arrived but it was raining very hard when we all went outside to light the fire). I think there may have been a few other odds and ends in there. All I know is it was really heavy by the time I pulled it out of the back seat.
Admittedly, and embarrassingly, this one week later, it still has stuff in it, and needs to be completely emptied and put away. It doesn’t have much, but still, it’s long past time.

Sister Thea Bowman, A Ministry of Joy

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Sister Thea Bowman addressing the USCCB:

Sr. Thea Bowman was born in 1937 on December 29th. This was in Mississippi and her parents named her Bertha. She was the granddaughter of slaves; her parents were a doctor and a teacher. She was raised Methodist, but when she was nine years old, she converted to Roman Catholicism. At 15, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Over the years, she received a B.A., a M.A., and a PhD in English and then went on to teach. She also received an honorary doctorate in theology from Boston College. She was a poet, a preacher, and a teacher, and she used all of those embodiments to bring a light to her calling that couldn’t help but be infectious to her contemporaries and those of us who have come after and continue to read of her works.

“When we understand our history and culture, then we can develop the ritual, the music and the devotional expression that satisfy us in the Church.”

She said this and it illustrates her impact on the development of a particular worship dedicated to and for Black Catholics. She was invaluable in the 1987 publication of the Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Arican-American Catholic Hymnal.

Her essay, The Gift of African-American Sacred Song can be downloaded by clicking on the title.

Her “ministry of joy” led the Diocese of Mississippi to bring her on as a consultant for intercultural awareness. In reading up on Sr. Thea, I really preferred this descriptor of intercultural rather than multi-cultural. It feels more natural to me. A person who knew her called her “the springtime in everyone’s life,” a visual that leaps out in color and light and blue sky.

Imagine what more she could have done and influenced in the past twenty-nine years had she not died at the young age of 52, on today’s date in 1990 of bone cancer.

There are at least twelve institutions named for her from Boston in the east to as far west as Illinois.

The Diocese (of Mississippi) has begun the research into Sr. Thea’s “heroic virtues” after which a cause for canonization can be opened in Rome if warranted.

Two of her written works you could look into for more from Sr. Thea are:

Families, Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. Commission on Marriage and Family Life, 1985.

Thea Bowman: In My Own Words. Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7648-1782-3. index of Bowman’s speeches, writings, and interviews, with a brief biographical sketch and epilogue (with Maurice J. Nutt)

I will leave you with her own words that spoke to me prayerfully earlier this week:

“Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world, but if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey, then I’ve done what I’m called to do.

St. Brigid of Ireland

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St. Brigid in stained glass from the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, Georgia. Image in the public domain. (c)2019

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

St. Brigid’s Cross. My collection. (c)2017-2019



Reflections on Living an Interfaith Life

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​​We’re more than halfway through Passover, and everyone is tired of matzo. Can’t we have pizza for dinner? Dinner rolls with our chicken? Pasta? Pleeeeeease. 

We have always been an interfaith family. We didn’t attend religious services but we observed and celebrated all of the major holidays of both Catholicism and Judaism. That was how I was raised Jewish – following the traditions, participating in the observances, eating the holiday food. We’ve always had a Christmas tree in my married life. We are so blended that when I converted to Catholicism, my daughter assumed that my husband was the Jewish one since we’re both faiths and I was Catholic.

People blend their interfaith families in a myriad of ways. For me, I try to find a way to blend without overshadowing or ignoring either. I also don’t usually like to combine them. For example, I don’t like Jewish related ornaments on Christmas trees. I think that keeping the holiday traditions distinctive is better for our kids to appreciate both equally. We still celebrate Chanukah on Christmas if it falls that way. We will light the Chanukah candles and decorate the tree on the same day if timing demands it.

If we were spending Easter with my mother-in-law, I would not object to the kids eating bread or her special Peeps bunny cake. They deserved their special time with their grandmother during her special holiday.

I dread looking at the calendar to see when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall because my son’s birthday is in October and there’s a chance I will have to choose between fasting and praying and celebrating my son’s birthday. (My son wins every time. One thing about both the Jewish and Catholic faiths is that family is a priority.)

This year, Passover began right in the middle of the Triduum. From Holy Thursday through Easter, I spend about 11 and a half  hours at church between the prayer services, parish dinner, masses, and the Easter Vigil. It is exhausting, but I love it. Right before that, my son was in the hospital, and our oven wasn’t working.

I did not even mention Passover until after Easter dinner*. Yes, we missed the first three nights, but Monday morning, bright and early, we were a bread free house. I realize it’s not kosher, but it’s kosher style, and they still get the dietary restrictions as well as the stories and the celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery. They also love latkes, which I make more during the abundance of potatoes for Passover than for Chanukah. This year I made fried chicken tenders using crushed matzo in place of the bread crumbs. I had never done that before and it was well received. I believe we have a new tradition.

After the huge windstorm we had yesterday, we’ve had no power since about 12:30am, and won’t be getting it back until later tonight, or so I’m told. That means we will probably need to eat out, which means I probably won’t restrict their food choices. I can always make the matzo lasagna tomorrow night. Obviously, grocery shopping is also postponed.

The most important aspect of sharing a house with multiple religions is respect. Our two faiths are equal in importance and in worth. They are valued with the same respect and reverence. My time at church is important to me, and my family understands and accepts that. My time making latkes is also valuable and important to me.

We light Yartzeit candles for my parents and now for my mother-in-law, who wasn’t Jewish. I know she wouldn’t mind. We also have mass said for her.

I would love to hear from any readers who juggle this very issue of interfaith or multi-faith within your families. I think we do a good job, but it’s good to give acknowledgment to others who are doing a good job as well as getting ideas on other things we can do differently or better.

I hope your Easter is a blessed one and Chag Sameach for your Passover.

What other holidays do you celebrate (they don’t necessarily have to be at this time of the year)?

[*My husband jiggled the heating element for the oven, and so we were able to have turkey dinner for Easter.]

Sundays in Lent – 1st Friday

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Use this oppotunity to go on pilgrimage. I know that we all can’t just hop on a jet and see the world or pray around the world, but we can visit some places that inspire us to be more prayerful and draw us closer to G-d. 

Lourdes is one of those places.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VGZxmB38Sjs

Incense

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This was in response to a free write for the prompt scent in the theme of comfort. In other words, write about a scent that gives you comfort.

​I would not have expected to be writing about incense being a comforting scent. I was never a fan of incense. Perhaps, it was the specific scents that I was exposed to. Perhaps, it was Allan, who lived across the hall from me in my first year in college who used it to mask his pot smoking. At the time, I was so naive that I didn’t realize that’s what it was for. I thought he was just kind of dopey and laid back, and the incense was just him being a late blooming hippie.

Either way, the smell of it was enough to put me off both pot and incense.

When I visited church for the first time that they used incense was probably around Advent, maybe Christmas Eve. I remember the sounds of that day more than I remember the smells. Our music director is an amazing musician, and it is a joy to listen to his carols before the Christmas Eve Mass. I don’t know if there was incense that night, but I know that it’s been there as the liturgical season warranted.

Every Tuesday, the Host is incensed and a hymn is sung before adoration. I try to watch the smoke rise until it dissipates on its way to the skylight. I try ot make sense of the shapes it makes and the directions it flows in, but usually it just goes, and I continue to meditate on it.

After the Mass of Christian burial, the casket is incensed on its way out of the church to the burial or interment. 

The incense is carried in a bowl through the church during the Sunday procession during Lent. I know it is offered up with a solemn hymn that just touches me deeply. The whole process of the incense rising, the low singing of the prayer, the hush that falls over everything. It is very similar at Advent.

During one of the RCIA rites, I was standing in the back with the other catechumens while we waited together for our time to bring our oils to the altar. It may have been the rite of welcome, or perhaps, during the Holy Thursday Mass. I can’t remember at the moment, but I do remember looking to the front of the church where the incense was being carried, and i distinctly saw the smoke rise and form the shape of a Jewish Star of David. It was one of many signs that I received that I was making the right decision to go down the path of conversion.

While at first, the smell bothered me, the more I became engrossed in the Catholic liturgy and ritual, the more comfortable I became with the scents and the smells of the church and the incense.

I would not expect it during a service, and then I would smell it, and a warmth would come over me, a comfort, and it reminded me of what I found in the church, but not so much in the building but in the pews.

As we are often told, we are the church, and I find a small part of myself floating through the air along with the incense.

Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.