And So, Goodbye

I joined this blog more than a year ago at the kind invitation of its founder, Webster Bull, and his writing partner, Frank Weathers. These two guys are like brothers to me now, even though I never have met Frank in real life, Webster has never met Frank, and I hadn’t met Webster until after I started “working” with him. I have been blessed to have been able to share this space with two great men. And to meet my dear readers, some of whom have become in-real-life friends! Thank you for reading.

I’ve decided to spread my wings a bit and carve out my own corner of cyberspace.

My new blog is called Rambling Follower . I will, of course, continue to visit these pages, as well as Webster’s. And I hope you stop by my new home, too. I’m a sucker for a beautiful prayer, so I want to end with this one.

A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you.
~Irish Blessing

For the Body of Christ, Not a Parish

My husband and I and our parish friends have waited months for the BIG DECISION. I surprised myself by leaving Mass tonight oddly unaffected by the Bishop’s announcement that our parish will be changing its name and merging with two other parishes.  I felt nothing, absolutely nothing.

As I pulled out of the parking lot and headed to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Matt Maher’s “Christ is Risen” was playing.  I realized once again I’m not Catholic because of a parish. I am a Catholic because I believe, as Pope Benedict XVI says: “In a world seeking human certainties and heavenly security… Christ is the solid rock upon which to build the edifice of one’s own life, and …trust placed in Him is never placed in vain.”

Like many Catholics in the Northeast United States, we worship at a parish with a dwindling membership in an area undergoing dramatic demographic change. My husband and I have been deeply involved with the life of this parish. And both our sons are too. They made their First Communions here and are altar servers. One problem with our neighborhood parish is that members do not reflect the faces in our community. About one-third of our sixth grader’s public-school classmates are Latino, yet few of those families choose to worship at our church, which is within walking distance. Instead, these families choose to drive to another town, where the parishes now are overflowing. One parish was so crowded at Christmas, that 200 worshippers had to stand in the sanctuary to pray.

Our bishop, keenly aware of the problem here and elsewhere, recently oversaw a process to merge and combine churches. I went to a few public forums at our parish. Frankly, I was deeply disappointed by some of the adults, who sounded scared of worshiping with folks from cultures which differ from their own. These past few months I have heard some most uncharitable words and attitudes from some devout parishioners.

The question I am asking myself, however, is: who am I to feel disappointment in people? After all, God, in His infinite love, chose to create each of us. And here’s another question: How often do I myself fall short of His glory?

How deeply we tend to attach ourselves to human structures – buildings and jobs and political parties and parishes and on and on. This isn’t what God wants. We need to adhere ourselves to Him, only Him, because only He can satisfy our deepest yearning.

“Christ is risen from the dead. We are one with Him again…Forever let your Church proclaim Christ…”Sing it!

For Vivaldi’s Gloria

Last night I had the supreme privilege and pleasure of hearing our eldest son play with his chamber music ensemble a concert of Bach and Vivaldi at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton, New Jersey. (Here they are performing in Florence several years ago. )  What moved me the most was when the children performed Vivaldi’s Gloria, accompanying  the Absalom Jones Inspirational Choir.

As Frank has written on these pages, Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. What I discovered last night by reading the program notes was that for 40 years Father Antonio Vivaldi was part of the 18th century “ospedale” movement, which offered what we would now consider music therapy to orphans and others marginalized by society. You can read more about this movement on the website “Vivaldi’s Girls”. The concert reminded me how God uses music and other forms of beauty to heal our souls.

As Maetro di Violino di Choro of the  girls’ ensembke of Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, Vivaldi was required to compose two masses a year, two Vesper servies and two new motets a year. He composed Gloria for these orphaned and illegitimate girls to perform.  

Our son’s participation in a chamber-music ensemble here in New Jersey is another occasion to marvel at the way God works. Three summers ago, I was working in Trenton, which is about an hour from home.  My husband and I thought we had done a good job figuring out child-care arrangements; Greg works near home and the boys were settled into a recreational activity nearby. Through a very unfortunate turn of events, our eldest was unexpectedly kicked out of the activity. If I were to give you the sorry details of how this unfolded, you likely would agree with our perception that adults in charge were unkind and unfair. He’d done nothing to warrant his rejection. The events angered us. But they also left me and my husband in a pickle. What to do with our 11 year old?

Frantic, I scoured the internet for alternatives and stumbled on a “chamber-music” music camp a few blocks from my workplace. Our son was a new double bass player and attended the camp joyfully. When camp was over, S., the director, approached me and asked me if she could ask him to join her chamber-music orchestra for youth. I balked – he was new to playing bass and these young musicians were so experienced and talented. They have performed in Chicago, Paris, Essen, Düsseldorf, Florence, Prague, Montenegro, Croatia, Baden, Vienna, and as part of the Philadelphia Bach Festival. But S. saw something in him that I could not – raw talent, an agreeable personality and an openness to learning.

Last night, I closed my eyes as the orchestra and choir performed the Gloria. I was transported to another place, and place of peace and joy and beauty.  I forgot the piece was being performed by children; it was that well done. But then I remembered the girls of Venice, for whom this piece was written. (In the painting at left, they are shown performing) Vivaldi hoped his Gloria would help heal them and as a result, all of us can be healed by his music. Here is a clip of the first movement, not from last night’s concert, but from the movie Shine.

For All The Saints: St. Philip Neri

St. Philip Neri
painted by Fr. Kevin Kelly
-Feast of St. Philip Neri

Did you know the Church has a Patron Saint of Joy? He’s St. Philip Neri. Today is his feast day.

Friends from our parish invited me to attend a Mass tonight at  7 o’clock to celebrate. We joined dozens of worshippers at the New Brunswick Oratory of St. Philip Neri, including five Oratorian priests, one Oratorian brother, and 14 secular Oratorians.

Beautiful and unexpected (and new!) to me was that the community tonight admitted six freshly minted Secular Oratorians. We Catholics are accustomed to praying for vocations; how stunning to see the those prayers come to fruition.

Who are the Oratorians?  “The Oratory believes that heaven is other people. In the spirit of prayer alone, and prayer in community, we come to share and encourage each other in our sacramental lives. As Oratory, we meet all peoples, all experiences and in return our understanding of God is widened and deepened. ” Perhaps the best known Oratorian is Blessed John Henry Newman.

Also by Fr. Kevin

Who was St. Philip Neri? At this late hour, I can’t do justice to the beauty of his life. He was born in Florence in 1515. A devout priest, he refused to take anything too seriously, except for Christ. He was funny and charming and spontaneous. The only rule of his order is “Sola Caritas,” or “Love Alone.”

So much moved me tonight: the sound of the harp and trombones, the chanting, the laughter, the earnest faith of the Oratorians and their secular companions; the celebrant joking before Mass began about having to wear three layers of polyester; the church bells ringing into the night at the Mass’s end.

Tonight was sticky hot and the church had opened the stained glass windows to let a breeze in. All during Mass, as I looked at the altar, I could see commuter trains transporting workers home. These sights and sounds made me realize how our lives are just like this; we take time to worship in the middle of the busyness of our lives.

When I got home, I did a little googling about St. Philip Neri.  I discovered St. Philip Neri had thought something similar. “Right in the middle of the crowd, we can be on the way to perfection.”

Update: Elizabeth Scalia on St. Philip Neri

Because the Saints Sustain Us; Which Ones Are Traveling With You?

My beautiful friend Ann Burt, who I first met on these pages, (and later in real life in her hometown of Raleigh, NC!)  has found a vocation making retablos. The small devotionals are labors of love; Ann runs a decorative painting business for a living.  My husband and I gave a retablo to our son Gabriel, on his Confirmation day.

I have just ordered a slew of them for friends in my life who are marking milestones and who have special devotion to a particular saint. I was so excited when Ann emailed me this afternoon to say: “St. Bernard and his traveling companions are on their way. Sorry I tried to get him out this morning but was not quite finished :(“

How blessed we are to have this Communion of Saints to accompany us to our destinies. Some folks might think we Catholics worship saints; we don’t. We do ask them to pray for us. We meditate on their lives in Christ in an effort to draw closer to Him.  This week, all my retablo ordering got me wondering: Dear readers, who are your special saints?

In transit from Raleigh: For a girlfriend moving home to Milano, St. Bernard of Clairvaux; for a new teacher-friend who recently bought with her husband their first home: St. Joseph; for a School of Community friend who landed a job at Tulane University;  St. Anthony of Padua. And finally, for a high school senior and friend of our family: St. Cecilia. I’m hoping this trumpeter will hang the retablo of the patron saint of music in his dorm room at university, where he will study music.

Only when I read, at Webster Bull’s recommendation,  Fr.  James Martin’s spiritual memoir My Life with the Saints, did I understand what they might offer us. Writes Fr. Martin: “The lives of the saints, parts of which seem confusing, bizarre and misguided, are — when you know the whole story — really tales of love. And they can offer some important lessons for all of us. If we just let them.” So, once again, who is accompanying you toward your destiny, and why?

Because the Peace of Christ is Real

 Guest post by Dwija Borobia

Dwija Borobia, 30, her husband, and their four young children decided to buy a house – sight unseen – in rural Michigan off the internet. Two months ago, we ran a piece of her story here.  Here’s another piece. 

When I’m presented with a challenging circumstance, when the road gets a little bumpy and the things aren’t going the way I wish they would, I clam up.  I need time to process the valleys of life.  The peaks…well, I shout those out eagerly!  Today, on the other hand, is different.  Today I’m ready to share something with you that was, or perhaps should have been, more difficult to celebrate.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day, my husband was laid off.

Now see, if I had posted this the day before Mother’s Day or the day after Mother’s Day, there would have been many condolences and true sadness and real concern from all of you, my dear friends, both those I know in flesh and those whom I’ve come to know and treasure over the past few months.  There was absolutely no way that I was going to saddle any of you with that worry.  If my friends were less empathetic or we had another real source of income then I might have considered it, but they aren’t and we don’t, so I didn’t.

He had actually come home early from work that Friday, with a six pack in his hand and a smile on his face.  I knew something was up.  But I didn’t ask him outright and he didn’t tell me outright, because he also needs a little time to process things, and if we were both processing it at the same time, well…that might not have been good.  In fact, it would certainly have been bad.  Better one at a time, truly.

So Friday and Saturday passed, with every suggestion by me that I ought to get to the store before he took the car again on Monday being shrugged off by him nonchalantly.  And then on Sunday, Mother’s Day, as we sat around the breakfast table before leaving for church, I insisted, emphatically, that it didn’t matter if it was Mother’s Day.  We had to go to the grocery store after Mass.  End of discussion.

“Well” he said, “I have sort of a surprise for you.”


“Um, I don’t have to go to work on Monday.  Or ever.  Yeah, so, the car will be here and….”


“Yay….?”, he suggested cautiously with an apologetic smile.

“Uh, are you serious?”

And of course, he was.  The contract that he’d been hired to help fulfill had fallen through.  No contract means no money means no work.

I hope you’ll know what I mean when I say I distinctively felt the pivotal nature of that moment.  Or better, I felt the pivotal nature of my reaction to that moment.  I could have choosen to be sad, disappointed, worried, or worst of all, angry.  If I had gone down any of those paths, most people would consider my response justified.  But would it have been?  Would it have made my family any more joyful or peaceful?  Would it have improved my relationship with my husband?  Would it give him his job back? No.

So I took a deep breath and nodded my head.  I forced a smile.  “Well, it’s not like it paid all that much and you certainly weren’t enjoying yourself.”  The look of pure relief that came over my husband when he heard those simple words was undeniable.  I knew he had been nervous, maybe even a little afraid.  Probably a whole lot sorry, even though there’s nothing he could have done.  He wanted nothing more than to make me happy, but he had no choice but to tell me truth.

Remember my tendency to let myself fall into despair?  Ever since I admitted that to all of you and committed myself to trusting Jesus the way my sweet little girl trusts me, the calm I’ve been able to enjoy has been nothing short of incredible.  That morning, Mother’s Day, as I stood next to my husband at Mass, I felt no fear.  There was not a trace of concern in my heart.  Not a bit of frustration.  No anger and no animosity.

I stood there with my dear husband and my four children and was instead overwhelmed with joy.  I almost couldn’t contain myself.  I wanted to tell everyone I saw.  I wanted to holler it from the rafters.  I want everyone I’ve ever known to know it.  And if you already know it, come on and shout it with me.  The peace of Christ is real! He is always there, ready to give it to us.  It’s just so “understandable” to deny Him at those pivotal moments.  But don’t deny Him.  Soften your heart.  Banish the fear.  Take the peace that it is rightfully yours and revel in a life of peace.

Go to her blog House Unseen. Life Unscripted. and start following her posts!

For “The Risk of Education”

The late Fr. Luigi Giussani, who founded the international Communion and Liberation movement, sometimes is hard for me to follow. Our School of Community is reading his seminal work “The Religious Sense,” and, to be honest, I would find it tough to grasp were it not for the skilled summaries provided by the woman who leads our weekly group.

This weekend, I bought another of his books, one that is easily accessible to me: “The Risk of Education. “ The subtitle is: Discovering our Ultimate Destiny.  I recommend this book to anyone who is a teacher or a parent or who hopes to be.

I have just started reading this one. I’m sneaking in bits and pieces as I cram in my year-end graduate school assignments and end-of-year tasks as a new high school teacher. I don’t have a succinct review of this book to offer but want to share some quotes I am underlining (It seems I am underlining half the lines in this book). Here’s what has inspired me in the first THREE pages.

The primary concern of society is to teach the young. This is the opposite of what currently happens.”

“True education (is)…educating what is human in us, our source or origin.”

“Ethics is nothing more than the continuation of the attitude in which God originally created humanity in its relation to all things.”

And finally, as the mother of a teen and a preteen, these words went straight to my heart:

True education must be an education in criticism. Up to the age of ten (Maybe even sooner these days) a child is still allowed to say ‘Because the teacher said so, because mommy said so.’ This is because those who love the child instinctively offer him, and fill his knapsack with, the best of their experiences, the best choices they made in their own lives. There comes a point, however, when nature gives the child to take this knapsack and look at it…What one has been told must become a problem! Unless this happens, it will either be irrationally rejected or irrationally kept but will never mature.”

Because I Don’t Work For You: Notes from the East Coast Fraternity Exercises 2011

Last night, the hundreds of us who gathered at a conference center in New Jersey for the East Coast Fraternity Exercises had the chance to listen to some witnesses – folks who found a way to verify Christ’s presence in our lives.

One young woman’s story moved me deeply because I found in her story traces of my own experiences.  Who among us has not faced an unfair boss or the struggle to be recognized in the work place?

This March, M. , a recently married middle school science teacher, let the principal at her school know she was pregnant, figuring the supervisor would have time to find a maternity-leave replacement for her when she gave birth in September.

Instead, she was fired. Instead of caving in to despair, or heading to the board of education to protest this injustice, M. meditated on the reasons she was a teacher. She realized she teaches not for the recognition of her principal but because she feels Christ calls her to. As a result, she dove even more deeply into her teaching this year, going well beyond what the job required. She hosted the school’s first-ever science fair, an event her principal didn’t bother to attend. When she arranged for her students to skype with a well-known astronomer of her acquaintance, one parent took notice, asking the principal why in the world she was firing this dedicated teacher.

Eventually, the principal had a change of heart, telling M. with tears in her eyes that she was so moved that M. continued to do her job, despite the fact she had failed to renew her contract. “How were you able to do that?” she asked “I don’t work for you,” M. told her, explaining that her motive for working was to teach young children about science, and to expand their understanding of the universe in the process.

At an assembly this morning, a few at the retreat said they are puzzled by M’s response. Chris Bacich, the U.S. leader of Communion and Liberation, explained.

“In the world we live in,  human relations are based on mutually exchanged goods – whether explicit or implicit. From marriage to work to friendship. That is the law of human relations in the world….But (as Paul tells us) I am a new creature. For me to work is to live according to the deepest needs of my heart. M. was telling her boss ‘I loves the destinies of the kids at your school. Therefore I am free from you.”

I never understood the “liberation” part of Communion and Liberation. Bacich clarified it for me and everyone else when he said: “True religiosity is the only escape from EVERY form of power, even clerical power. Our charism says that what matters is to live according to the heart. Christ gives us a clarity and the energy to live according to the heart and this is living a new life, a life in freedom.”

On Being a New Creature: Notes from the East Coast Fraternity Exercises 2011

About 10 last night, we celebrated Mass in a huge meeting room at the Hamilton Park Hotel & Conference Center, which bills itself as being designed “with the sophisticated traveler in mind.” Well, we are a motley crew, some 200 adults of varying ages and stages.  Father Richard Veras, chaplain to Communion and Liberation, reminded us in his homily that what happens in this conference room during consecration is no different than the apostles encounter with Christ during the Last Supper. The upper room, after all, was nothing special, just the second floor room of a restaurant.

As Christians, he said, we want to strive to overcome the distance between what the Apostles felt when talking with Christ at the Last Supper and understanding something monumental and history-changing was about to happen and what we feel and experience at Mass and in our daily lives. Our lives, he said, need to communicate how Christ lives within us – by the radiance on our faces and the intensity with which we gaze on God and one another.

It’s a tall order, isn’t it? But it’s the task of all Christians, I think, to, as Fr. Rich put it, to  cast off the aridity of words, to replace our religiosity with a recognition that Christ is among us, and to let ourselves be generated by Him. This can only happen when we let Christ enter into the day-to-day experiences of our lives.

Great words to meditate on as we headed out in silence, a silence only to be broken by breakfast. But boy, do I miss my family.

For Faith in Action: East Coast Fraternity Exercises 2011

What a difference a year makes. Last May, the leader of our fledgling School of Community invited me to stop by the annual spiritual retreat of the East Coast participants of Communion and Liberation. So I drove up for lunch at a conference center in Florham Park, NJ to meet Webster Bull, the man who started this blog and who introduced me to Communion and Liberation. I didn’t know much about CL, and visited its East Coast Fraternity Exercises with a mix of suspicion and enthusiasm. On a personal note, I also was in the midst of retraining myself for a career teaching special-education students.

Now, I’ve spent a year attending weekly School of Community meetings at my parish, as well as other CL-sponsored events. Our little group has grown to about dozen members who have become good friends. Tonight I pack my bags for a weekend at the very same conference center, this time as a participant. The site is a short distance from the public high school where I’ve spent the past school year working as a teacher in special education classrooms.

The Call of the Wild!

The timing for the Exercises could be better. When I head north to Florham Park, I will leave my husband, who is enduring a stressful stint at his job, and our sons, who together have two baseball games, a soccer practice, an orchestra rehearsal and an altar-serving duty, all within a 36-hour span. The lawn looks lousy, our personal Serengeti. Folded, clean laundry sits in piles and baskets in the family room. I have hours of work to do to finish up my year-long graduate coursework, and pages of materials to edit for my year-end evaluation at work. By Monday.

Maybe I will discover this is just the right time for my first-ever retreat. In the middle of the busyness of life, this weekend could be conducive to quieting down and spending some time talking to God and fellow travelers. I’ll let you know.