Sunday, June 12, 2016

merciful like the father

The Jubilee Year of Mercy began in late 2015 and continues through late 2016.  Around the world, various sites have been declared Pilgrimage Sites and the faithful may obtain indulgences by visiting there and fulfilling certain conditions.  Without getting into all kinds of nitty gritty theology, if you want to know more, you can look up Fr. Champagne's "Mercy Minutes" on Facebook's Fete Dieu du Teche page or use Google.  I was kind of surprised to find out several years ago that indulgences are still around - after all the drama their abuse caused in the Middle Ages  -  but they are.

Entering through the Holy Doors can symbolize entering into Christ.  So, inspired by a friend who undertaken a similar local pilgrimage earlier this summer, I asked a group of Boy Scout mom friends if they would join me.  Our boys have grown up and gone down different paths, but we still enjoy each other's company.  One was busy, but the other two agreed.

We began our day at our local Cathedral.  As we arrived, we noticed other cars in the parking lot, and realized that today was the day that our diocese was ordaining 3 new priests.  People had already started to gather.  We located the stamp and ink pad to stamp the back of our booklet and then slipped into a pew near the back to pray.

Having received Your Mercy and forgiveness, we seek to pray for Your Mercy for others.  We lit our brothers and sisters up to You to be blessed and forgiven.  We call upon your Sacred Heart to fill them with Your boundless compassion.  We ask you to listen to their prayers, to inspire their hearts, to comfort their fears.  Assure them of Your love as we remember them to You. 

As we were leaving, I encountered a former co-worker from many years ago.She was there for the ordination...she had graduated with one of the men being ordained.  I remember long ago - maybe 15 years or more - a priest asking for prayers for this particular seminarian, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia.  She told me that he had not only fought leukemia, but had also lost both of his parents and had a heart transplant due the side effects of chemo.  Now in his 40's, God had continued to call him into His merciful heart.  His story in this video:  


For those who have sinned against others by selfishness or greed - who have become blinded by self-interest and allowed others to pay the price of their selfishness. 

We continued on to our next stop - Our Lady of Mercy.  We parked in the shade and entered the dimly lit church.  We located the stamp in the back, stamped our booklets, and knelt down to pray. 

For those who have sinned against others by prejudice and discrimination - who cling to graven images rather than bow before the dignity of  others.

After a few minutes there, we headed off to a Shrine to the Sacred Heart.  It was a good distance out of the way, but worth the trip.  None of us had ever been there before.  Probably none of us even knew of its existence.  

The miles passed and the conversation flowed.  Google Maps led the way.  To the middle of nowhere, it seemed.  

We located the Shrine easily enough. We opened the car door and a million a swarm of mosquitoes invaded the car.  But they weren't too hungry and left easily enough later on.  Our first priority was restroom facilities, and [mercifully] this location had them.  

We wandered around the outside of the Shrine.  It was so peaceful, with the sounds of nature.  There were outdoor Stations of the Cross, a basketball goal with a ball sitting....waiting.  The Blessed Mother, too, seemed to be waiting, inviting those who were burdened to come, sit, and reflect, so that she could lead them to her Son and His mercy.  Maybe it would be a nice retreat venue. 

We entered another Holy Door, signed in, stamped our books and knelt to pray.  

For those who have sinned against You, Lord by disrespecting Your creation: who regard Your precious gift as something to be exploited or destroyed.

The Shrine was built in the early 1980's.  It was the result of a dream that the priest assigned to the nearby church had while on retreat.  So many things fell into place for him to literally make the dream come true.  

The statue of the Sacred Heart had been offered to him by his physician.  The doctor's family had sold to the state a local hospital they had owned, and as such couldn't have a statue of the Sacred Heart in a publicly owned hospital.  The stained glass windows were offered to him by someone who had them in their shed.  They depicted Canadian martyrs and ironically the priest was Canadian.  The windows were over 200 years old.  

We lit candles at this location, but nearly all of the places we visited had candles. The lit candle symbolizes a way of extending prayers.  

We de-mosquitoe'd the car and continued our trek - back the way we had come to our next outdoor grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes.  

This location was a little harder to find.  We arrived at the church, but there was serious construction going on nearby.  Just as we were about to set out on foot to find the grotto, an angel of mercy in an SUV drove into the parking lot and pointed us towards the right direction.  She even showed us where to park and told us where to find the stamp for our booklets.  

Built by a husband in memory of his wife who had passed away from ALS in 2003, the brochure noted that they had faithfully prayed the Rosary every night and had received "innumerable graces". God's mercy.  The path had a marker for each of the 20 decades of the Rosary. 

We noted that it might be a quiet place to return to for prayer.  Maybe when it is cooler.  Note to self: October is the month of the Rosary, and it is cooler then.  

Soybean ? fields nearby.  It was quiet and peaceful.  We returned to the church parking lot since the stamp for the booklets was located inside the church. 

We prayed for a bit in the quiet coolness.  Maybe we gave thanks for God's merciful love in our lives and the lives of those close to us or maybe we prayed for good health or asked him to draw close to Him those who are wandering or any number of other things. 

For those who have sinned against You, Lord by offering the lives of others:  who see the human life as useless or expendable.  

We were starting to feel hungry, so we headed on towards our predetermined lunch destination. 

It was a fairly leisurely, delicious meal.  I'm pretty sure there wasn't a morsel of food left on any of our plates.  We split a slice of salted caramel cheesecake three ways.  Pure awesomeness!  Maybe we were merciful to our server when we left a tip.  

There had been a downpour while we ate lunch, and we stepped back out into the steamy summer day and headed for our next stop.  Another Our Lady of Mercy.  

We parked and entered through the doors.  We stamped our books, surveyed our surroundings and knelt to pray.  Maybe we said a prayer for those in our families who have passed away or for those in the world without enough to eat or for those who are struggling with their vocations in life.  

For those who have sinned against themselves by surrendering their truest identity:  who surrender their authentic self as Your child to the lure of addictions or the expectations of the world.

There is a Vietnamese community in this area.  Their heritage was recognized in one of the stained glass windows.  

There was also an icon of St. Maximilian Kolbe that was unlike anything I'd seen before.  

We journeyed on through sugarcane fields and beautiful oak trees to the oldest church parish in our area.  

They celebrated 250 years last year.  The current church building was built in 1836.    

It was after 3:00 and the 4:00 Mass crowd was starting to assemble.  We parked across the street and approached.  

We followed an older couple who were both walking with canes.  They, too, were on a pilgrimage. They had started at a church much further south and were making their second stop of the day.  An usher held the door open for us and welcomed us.  

We entered, stamped our books and looked around a bit.  There were quite a few things that caught our attention.  The pews still have doors on the ends, as they did in colonial days.  

There was a grotto on one side.  It was constructed by a freed slave in the late 1870's. The Stations of the Cross were massive and came from France in 1904. 

We settled into a pew for a bit and prayed as people arrived for Mass.  

For those who have sinned against themselves by tuning from freedom:  who choose to accept the bondages of sin, resentment, despair and rage by refusing Your invitation to Mercy. 

There was one more stop that we hoped to make on our journey and the hour was getting late.  We headed out.  Rain threatened.

We arrived at our final destination with 10 minutes to spare, but found that it had closed early due to the threatening weather.  A little disappointed, maybe, but it is local to us, so we can go another day.  All in all, a peaceful, relaxing day with a good mix of conversation and friendship, quiet and prayer. Time to be grateful for God's great mercy towards us and contemplate ways that we might be merciful like the Father.   

Merciful Father, You leave the ninety-nine in desperate search of the one.  You place the lost on Your own shoulders to secret away to greener pastures.  You kill the fatted calf to rejoice with the found. There is no limit to Your Mercy.  Your embrace leaves us breathless and forgiven.  Teach us to be instruments of Your Mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.  

From Prayer of Pilgrims of Mercy
Diocese of Lafayette  

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 highlight (and lowlight) reel

Thumbing through pictures in my phone today, looking at the past on TimeHop, helping one of my sons go back through the past year to put a Christmas present together, I realized that there are things worth remembering from the past year.  I was also struck by the number of "lasts".  All in all, sometimes Facebook isn't the best venue for all that I want to write. So here we are.

1.  Half a Century for Me!  Technically, this great event took place at the end of 2014, but it was after Christmas, so close enough to include for 2015.  This picture is of my 98-year-old grandfather and the 6 great-grandkids who live in the area.  It's not everyone who has their grandfather at their 50th birthday, and for that I was grateful!  And as "lasts" go, I think this may be the last picture I have of my grandfather, but more on that later. This day was a happy day!

2. The problem with dogs is that they don't live long enough.  We said good-bye to our faithful friend, Sandy, in the first week of January.  She was 11 years old, but the end was quick and unexpected.  Kidney failure coupled with sepsis.  She was such a sweet girl.  She followed me around and slept by my bed. She would put her paws on the bathtub in the morning, until I would rub her head with my wet hands. The silver lining was that she didn't have the slow decline into old age.  (Because we can't live without dogs, Ellie - a Blue Heeler - joined us later in the spring.   She is totally, wholly, committed to my husband.)

3.  Hard Work Pays Off.  That's my son, in blue...wrestling for the state championship of his weight class in his school's division.  At the end of the match, he had accomplished his goal....he stood atop the podium as the state champ!  He had finished third last year, and had set his sights on first place this year. After wrestling practice he would run a few miles or lift weights.  He worked hard, and I was so glad that it ended with a victory!

4.  Abbey Youth Fest - Details in a previous blog post.


5. Lent and Holy Thursday - I said all of this before, too!

6.  I have fought the good fight,  I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.... When I saw my grandfather at Easter, I was stunned at how much he had declined since Christmas.  For the most part, he seemed to not be there....there was one moment when he looked across the room and his eyes caught mine and he said something lucid.  Within a week or so, he had moved to an in-patient hospice facility, and he was there for about a week.  My grandfather was 2 weeks shy of his 99th birthday when he passed away.  He still lived in his own house, but the credit for that goes to the unsung heroes - my parents - especially my dad - who were available at all hours of the day and night to respond when he needed help, to check on him, and to help him with all the little tasks of daily living.

7. School's Out Forever.  We are all done with high school in this house.  Just like that, they are all grown up.  This kid had planned to go to the community college, but things fell into place in such a way that he ended up at the university.  Full time student plus a more-than-full-time job as an equipment manager for the football team. He was admitted "by committee" to the university, but pulled off  Dean's List his first semester.  (Thanks to C. Wills for the picture)

8. Summer Birthdays... My first-born's 20th birthday was July 17.  He celebrated by taking the day off of work, we went out to lunch as a family.  We had a couple of granddaughters visiting from Florida and the younger one turned 10 the following day.  My stepson's mom hosted a party for the birthday princess. Seated next to her in the greenish shirt is my mother-in-law. This was the last picture I have of her.  Sometimes things change way too quickly.

 9.  Not Grand at all... The theater shooting....  Adding a footnote that it reopened a few months ago, after being closed for "remodeling".

10.  Another Eagle....Kid #2 received his Eagle Scout Award in August...he had finished up the requirements in February (about a week before his 18th birthday), but we waited for his friends who finished in the coming months to have the ceremony.  His Eagle project was re-striping the parking lot at our church.

This pretty much put finishing touches on our Boy Scout career - a journey that had begun in the fall of 2001 when my oldest was a Tiger Cub and I was the Tiger Cub leader by default.  What a great trip it was, and what wonderful people we met along the way!  Friends for life - for both my boys and us.

11.  And then fall happened... School starts here in early August.  My son was already hard at work in his equipment manager job...he had to take time off to attend his own Eagle ceremony. About a week later, my 84-year-old mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital for some concern, and while undergoing testing to pinpoint that problem, learned that their were lesions on her liver. Never a good sign.  Further testing revealed colon cancer that had spread to her liver.  She had had no symptoms, and all of that was unrelated to her original complaint. She started on a chemo pill to perhaps buy some time, but no one seemed to be able to hazard a guess to answer the question of "how long"?

Things at school got off to a rocky start for me. (I teach special ed.) I had a full house of kids - 12 - but no paraprofessional.  Ten of the kids were hold-overs from last year, so we all knew the ropes, and they are generally good kids, but it was difficult to keep up with the paperwork and the kids.  I chose the kids.  Some days I had a sub with me, and some days it was just me and the kiddos.  On those days, I did not even get a kid-free lunch, because I had one who needed supervision at lunch.  At some point in September, a teacher assistant came to work in my classroom.  A former teacher, but with some emotional difficulties...she lasted 4 days. We carried on.The paperwork got further behind, and time outside of school to devote to it was limited (so was the time during school, as they kept us more than busy with 'professional development'.).

About six weeks into the year, in late September or early October, an assistant who was worth the wait joined us. And another kid, putting us at our legal limit. Mother-in-law had suffered a heart attack at the hospital, and the blood thinners given to combat that problem had caused her tumor to begin to bleed. Another kid joined our class, and while permission was given to hire another teacher to split my class, it did not move quickly. One October afternoon, I was driving home when the song "Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns came on the radio.  It was one of those moments, where you hear just the song you need to hear at the time.  I had been trying so hard to hold everything together, and it was exhausting. I remember where I was on the road when I heard it.  It was good advice....stop holding on, and just be held.

October was the month of hospital visits.  We knew which parking spot in the garage best met our needs.  We had a routine down.  Meanwhile, things for my mother-in-law were not improving. Receiving blood every few days sustained her, but did not stop the bleeding.   My stepson and his family came in from Florida and spent several days with her.  The Lord seemed to be beckoning, but she was not done living here yet.  A visit with her priest helped her to come to peace with the future and she signed papers for hospice care.

Somewhere mid-October, I made a visit to the confessional.  I like to go on a regular basis, and it was time.  My penance, which as prefaced with "now don't laugh at me, but...." probably had more to do with the homily that weekend than the sins I confessed, but it was so very perfect. God is good like that. "Spend 5 minutes in prayer, each of the next 5 days, praying with your palms facing up."  I will tell you that with all of the things going on in my life, it was a powerful thing to kneel in front of the Tabernacle in the mornings after Mass when everyone was gone and speak to the Lord with open hands.  Not only asking Jesus to take the things that I need to let go of, but also to supply the things that I needed.  Powerful.

Towards the end of October, my mother-in-law came home with hospice care.  God bless my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.  On the morning of Halloween, we were gathered in her room - my husband and my boys, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, niece, and a nurse, and we prayed the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary.  It was a graced time.  More hours with her in the evening, she wasn't responding. My equipment manager son was working a rainy football game.  He texted after the game and asked if he should come...we said "yes" and he immediately locked his keys in his truck.  She made it through the night, and my husband headed back the next morning while the boys and I headed to Mass.  As I walked into Mass on All Saints Day, I felt my phone vibrating.  I checked and saw that it was my sister-in-law telling me that a new saint had joined those already in Heaven.  The silver lining was that my mother-in-law never experienced pain from her cancer, and in the end, she was at peace.

Another new student arrived in my room the following week and FINALLY another teacher was hired.  Before Thanksgiving, we divided the classes.  No, I didn't keep the "good" ones, and give her the "bad" ones.  I teach the Math and Science (which is not what I would have chosen) and she teaches ELA and Social Studies.  She is young and a good fit for our group, but not versed in matters of special ed paperwork, so all of that continues to fall mostly to me.  We are struggling to find our rhythm, but eventually it will happen.

We have made it the end of the beginning of 2016. Thanking God for the blessings of 2015.  Asking that we grow in appreciation of His mercy - of every good thing that comes from his heart -  during 2016.