Saturday, May 30, 2009

Prayer Request: An Update

A week ago I came to you all asking for prayer for Scott from Washington D.C. Thank you all!

Scott's lungs cleared up enough that he could undergo surgery, and as far as I know, it went very well. In addition, his broken vertabrae did not do any major damage his spinal cord. He can make a fist and move his feet, even in the induced coma. He will have a long road to recovery ahead. Please continue to pray for Scott, and for his family as they all walk this road together.

I have witnessed the power of prayer in my life and in the lives of my friends and loved ones over and over again. When I think of all of you, from wherever you are around the world, I see the Gospel come alive. Particularly my favorite story from the Gospel of Mark:

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven." Mk 2:1-5

I've posted about this verse before; one reader even commented about how Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic's friends. Certainly, Jesus has seen our faith, too. He sees it in our actions, as we gather together using this miraculous tool we call the Internet. Haven't we just cut a proverbial hole in the roof and lowered Scott into the presence of Jesus?

What a testament to the power of prayer.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Endings...Or Beginnings?

I didn't expect a full house today when I walked through the side door of St. Columba Cathedral on my way to confession.

Cardinal Mooney High School's graduating class, rehearsing for Baccalaureate tonight, were giggling, chattering, fidgiting and just about bursting out of their skin. As I waited in the confessional line (yes, there really is a line for confession), I watched the students process down the center aisle. Not a single one could hide their feelings. They were confident, scared, excited, nervous, worried, anxious, jittery, and uncertain about everything except one fact: tonight they will process down that aisle into the end of life as they know it.

We disciples had our own procession going on as well. Those of us waiting in the confession line had more practice at hiding our feelings, but believe me, we had 'em too, right down to that certainty of an end to life as we know it.

But isn't an end to one thing also the beginning of something else?

I'll admit, the commotion made my examination of conscience a little more difficult, but watching those students, their emotions stirring about in all different directions, suddenly gave me hope for the future. And as each disciple emerged from the confessional lighter, having left life as we knew it behind on the confessional floor at the feet of our Lord Jesus, I found myself rejoicing in the new life I was about to grab with both hands when I walked through the door and sat before Father.

I offered the first prayers of my new life with joy in my heart, and a few extra for the kids, hopeful not just in my own new beginning, but in that new beginning for the graduating class of 2009, emerging from church bursting with anticipation, ready to grab onto those new lives that await---yep, with both hands.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Heart of Jesus

I think of [the Holy Spirit] as the love that dissipates all darkness and gives perfect light, that supplants all ignorance with perfect knowledge. -St. Catherine of Siena

About a year ago someone asked me how "we Catholics" could spend so much time focusing on the cross.

My answer to this question at the time was simply, "how can you live the resurrection had there not been death?" I have grown so much since then.

Today I began my day with week two's morning meditation of a five-Wednesdays Devotion to St. Catherine of Siena. I found it last month while researching a post for her feast day. Today's meditation, titled "St. Catherine's Love for the Heart of Jesus", actually draws us into His wounds, particularly His pierced side: "The Passion of our Lord being ended...could not suffice to manifest to us His Infinite Love; therefore He desired that His side should be opened to us, as if to reveal to us how much His Will and desire even surpassed the sufferings endured...All that Christ did for us was done through the love of His Heart." It's no wonder this Doctor of The Church bore the stigmata.

His Wounds. His Will. His Love.

This is definitely the kind of love worthy of my full attention; the kind of love worthy of remembrence in the form of a crucifix on my wall. As we prepare for Pentecost, may we never forget the infinite love which gives us the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Man On Crutches

The seminarian stepped out of the chapel after his morning prayers one Sunday morning and observed a man on crutches by the holy water font. He watched as the man dipped his hand in and sprinkle first his left leg, then his right. Looking up to heaven, the man threw his crutches off beside him.

The seminarian ran as fast as he could to the rectory and told the pastor all that he had seen.

"Mary, Mother of God! You've just witnessed a miracle!" exclaimed the pastor. "Where is the man right now?"

"Next to the holy water font laying flat on his face."

(St. Philip Neri, that one's for you.)

"If God be with us,
there is no one else left to fear."

Monday, May 25, 2009


I am the daughter of a Vietnam War hero. While in combat, my dad suffered a bullet wound in the left arm, tearing off the majority of his bicep. Thank God, because just a few inches to his right, the bullet would have punctured his heart and I would not be here. They were going to amputate, but through my dad's courage and determination, he still has his arm. I might be biased, but my dad's story of survival and recovery is the stuff of which movies are made.

I'm also the wife of a Gulf War veteran. While inspecting his equipment at Camp Lejeune, he found tucked into his helmet a note from his son Carl, telling him how much he loved him, and how proud he was of him. Imagine it: a room full of Marines brought to tears by the love of one man's son. Ed has told me on several occasions that finding that note was one of the most profound moments of his life.

My great-uncle Ronnie, who's nearing his 90's, was a WWII gunner. My nephew is an Iraqi War veteran. He served two tours. My step-brother, a US Army Major, is nearing retirement, having served his country for 20-plus years, including leading troops in Iraq. Today the sons, daughters, nieces, nephews of many of us are still abroad, serving their nation in a time of war.

Today we don't just remember those who have died on the battlefields. We also celebrate those who have survived them, and we honor those who still serve, by sharing in a day of peace with families and friends. Fly your flags today for them.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's All In The Details

"I'd like to use the Kyrie for the Sunday Mass," Father Ed said during our Cursillo Liturgy planning session yesterday. I flipped my index open as if on command, scanning the list for some contemporary arrangements and only half-listening to his question. "What do you think, Gina, should we go with the Greek Kyrie or the Latin?"

I replied with my nose buried in my list, "Oh, there are so many arrangements, I think we should make it easy on everyone and just go with the Latin."

This is what I get for paying attention to the wrong details. That's right, the word Kyrie is Greek. There is no "Latin Kyrie". I totally fell for it. What makes this sadder is that I am the 1998 Evangelos Meshel Award winner for Ancient Greek Language Studies. How pathetic is it that I didn't catch Fr. Ed's joke? Father let me yammer on about musical arrangements, composers and other unnecessary details for a few minutes until he finally let me off the hook. Gotta love a priest with a twinkle in his eye and joy in his heart. "Of course you knew it," he explained. "You merely forgot." You can bet I'll never forget that detail again.

Father's little joke was still on my mind later that afternoon at the wedding I cantored. Most of the time when cantoring a wedding, I'm not paying much attention to much other than my music, but this time I watched the bride & groom, attendants and guests. They were nice, but were pretty lukewarm. The matron of honor was carrying on conversations with the bridal party during mass. As they exchanged vows, the bride & groom fidgeted mindlessly. Few responded. Few participated. Suddenly my little light bulb perched above my head went on.

I think Father's little joke snapped me out of something. I began to think about Mass, and how when I'm not cantoring, I find myself fidgeting in my seat, flipping through the missalette or hymnal, mentally critiquing the musicians, reading ahead any upcoming Masses I'm going to be planning, anything but being present. I realized that most often, I really need to work hard at paying attention. Apparently I've fallen victim to my own self-image as a liturgist. That morning with Fr. Ed, I was so worried about looking like I knew what I was doing. No wonder I forgot something as fundamental as "Kyrie" being Greek.

It's like I tell my guitar students: bad habits creep back when you're not practicing. Yet every one of my students will forgo practicing their scales to spend an hour picking out our cool new strap. We buy metronomes, tuners, 75 picks, fancy guitar stands, all because that's what guitarists have. But our playing suffers. We forget our form. We shave more practice time off our weekly routine. Little by little we lower our standards until suddenly we're forgetting what should be elementary. Most of the time we find ourselves back in those bad habits long before we realize it. Practicing with vigilance is a must.

It's the same with our Christian walk. Christianity is counter-cultural in its idealism. Living in a world offering self-image as its ideal, however, many of us find ourselves fixating on what others see when they look at us, ranging from our physical appearance to our status in our communities or environments. We do things to placate our fixations, even if it means spending money we don't have, using our friends and loved ones, telling a little white lie here and there to protect ourselves and to get the reaction we want, or a whole host of other bad habits, all to achieve an opposing ideal. We tell ourselves that we're on the right track, because we outwardly look Christian; but our total lack of progress in our Christian walk indicates otherwise. We know in our hearts that to achieve our self-serving goals, we've completely ignored the wrong details.

Looking like a good Christian really means nothing if we're not walking the talk. Eliminating those bad habits promoting self-image requires vigilance. We have to actively change our mindset away from the impressions others may have of us toward what is truly right. For me it means more than just planning suitable music and performing it well. It means being present in my heart, whether I'm cantoring or not, and being mindful of every detail as if my relationship with the Lord depended on it. (Not to mention my reputation as the 1998 Evangelos Meshel award winner.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What You've Been Given

Anyone who teaches knows my very special guitar student. She isn't the star by any means. She wants to be, though, even with all her limitations: she was born with developmental impediments, and has many issues because of this factor. Plus she has a job, so there are time constraints and destractions galore. Not to mention she can be a little willful and doesn't always practice what I tell her to practice.

Even so, she is musically inclined. She can read music to sing, and can carry a tune. She picked up rhythm surprisingly fast, and when she nails a song, she can follow and accompany without drowning out the singer or musician. Plus her desire to learn is downright inspiring, and most of the time she does the best she can with what God gave her. Overall, I wish every one of my students had the kind heart that she has. She's really shown incredible improvement, and works hard to defy anyone and everyone who doubts her. And let me tell you, many people doubt her.

Yes, I'm very proud of her.

(A) man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two.

But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and ettled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'

(Then) the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.' His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.

For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Matthew 25:14-29

When you've been given much, it's easy to overcome those obstacles of fear and self-doubt; and when those who seem to have less see those with so much more, being intimidated is inevitable. My special student was only given one talent. What kind of teacher would I be if I didn't push her to invest that talent and make the most of it? After all, everyone has something to offer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fishers Of Men

"Who will take the cross?" Father steps down from his chair just before the final blessing at Mass and hands over a small wooden cross to this week's willing volunteer. Attached to the cross is a prayer for an increase in vocations to the Priesthood.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops published the names & photos of the Ordination Class of 2009 (found here), along with a few statistical factoids, such as:

The average age of ordinands for the Class of 2009 is 36.

On average, the responding ordinands report that they were about 17 when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood.

Relatively few ordinands say that TV, radio, billboards, or other vocational advertising were instrumental in their discernment.

(Source: The Class of 2009: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood)

It's a tough decision. I know a few young men who are right now discerning a call to the priesthood. They have been for several years now. They all have the same concerns: What if they get through everything and take their vows, and they realize that they don't want to be a priest anymore? What if they meet a woman and fall in love? What if they WANT to meet a woman and fall in love? What about being a father? What about their families? And these are just a few of the many issues facing young men in their discernment process.

One need only turn on the television for about ten minutes to see that contemporary American society is not inclined toward Christ. It's not just the TV lineup, either; the workplace, the voting booth, the internet, right down to where we shop, all put out there more and more attractive choices that would compromise my Church and my faith. When the world no longer believes, becoming a catalyst for faith can be seen as almost futile.

No wonder it can take a decade or more to discern a vocation.

This is why I applaud advertising for vocations. Whether I'm buying laundry detergent or wardrobe staples, I rarely admit that advertising of any kind significantly affects my decisions. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of us would say the same. I know better, though, because I know that good advertising doesn't work directly. It gets under the surface and attempts to shape the underlying desires of our hearts. So despite the above statistic regarding vocational advertising, I believe it's a practice that needs to continue, if not stepped up a bit.

The following short film in two parts is an excellent piece promoting vocations to the priesthood. As you watch them, pray for anyone who might be discerning a vocation. And while you're at it, ask them to watch this film.

“As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Mark 1:16-17

Saturday, May 16, 2009

In The Details

I bought my tiny icon of Our Lady Of Vladimir about 12 years ago when I worked at Alba House Communications, and she’s been with me through everything. Some days I just walk by her with a glance, other days I stare intently at every detail of her face, soaking in everything that the image has to teach me.

Icons are much more than devotional paintings. An ancient form of writing, as an iconographer would most likely say (icons are referred to as having been “written” in the Orthodox church), the icon is the oldest form of worship aid, carrying within its brushstrokes the Tradition of faith, dating back to St. Luke, credited with the image of “Our Lady of Tenderness”, the foundation image of my Lady of Vladimir.

Every detail of the icon means something.

The gold trim adorning her dark, earthy mantle is a sign of her status, yet it is mere trim, whereas Christ is completely adorned in a robe of gold. She shares in eternal life, but not in divinity. On her head and shoulders are stars. These indicate the Trinity. Christ himself is the star of her right shoulder.

Look at how He is depicted here: not an infant, but a full-grown man with the face of a child. His gaze is fixed on her, his arms wrapped around her in a tight, loving embrace. Is he breathing life into her? She leans her head toward Him to receive, while her gaze is fixed on me, her eyes sad yet peaceful. She doesn’t smile, but there is joy in her face. She supports Christ with one hand, and with her other she welcomes me into the embrace, into the mystery.

Our Lady of Tenderness is truly a symbol of the Church. Doesn't Christ want to embrace each of us as well, and breathe into us the breath of life? I want to be like her, standing with arms open, ready to welcome anyone who seeks Him.

To read more about the history of icons and their use in worship, read Praying With Icons by Jim Forest.

O Sacrament Most Holy

O Sacrament Divine

all praise and all thanksgiving

be every moment thine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Queen Of The May

“There is no problem I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.” Sister Lucy, Fatima Visionary

It was 28 years ago YESTERDAY that John Paul II was shot. Mehmet Ali Agca’s bullet miraculously avoided his major organs. He attributed his survival to Our Lady of Fatima.

The month of May is a celebration of spring, of rebirth and new life. How fitting that the Chruch devotes May to Mary, the mother of our Lord. John Paul II had a very deep devotion to Our Lady, and at the request of Our Lady of Fatima, consecrated the nation of Russia to her in 1984. At every opportunity he spoke of her, and encouraged the faithful all over the world to increase their devotion to Mary.

"Through Mary," he declared in Como, Italy, in 1996, "we come to her Son more easily. Mary is held up as a model for the believer and for the whole Church called to respond to the Lord with her own 'yes'. She is the Mother who intercedes for all: for souls thirsting for God and for those who are groping in the darkness of doubt and disbelief for those who are suffering in body or tried in spirit, for those who yield to the attraction of sin and for those who are struggling to escape its clutches. Her motherly concern overlooks no one." (from Pope John Paul II's Angelus Message in Como, Italy 5 May 1996)

It certainly never overlooks me. Prayer comes most easily to me with my Marian devotions, especially the Rosary. Holding the beads is a consolation; reciting the prayers frees my mind to meditate; and each mystery builds one upon the other through the life of Jesus through Mary, as if she’s sitting right there with me, teaching me details, signs and insights. A rosary truly prayed teaches the person of Jesus, bringing us into a deeply intimate relationship with Him. Who better to teach us? In the heart of Mary, Jesus is an ancient promise; a living miracle; a helpless child; a victim of hatred and ignorance; a savior and king. No other person could know the heart and mind of the Lord like the woman who shared her body with Him.

Sister Lucy of Fatima says, “with the Holy Rosary, we will save ourselves, we will sanctify ourselves, we will console Our Lord and obtain the salvation of many souls.” I believe her, because nothing I’ve ever experienced has helped me to know the Lord better.
(Click here to learn how to pray the Rosary)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

A few years ago I had the privilege of providing music for a four day mission at a local parish. For those of you who don't know, a parish mission is a several-day Lenten reflection, usually beginning Sunday evening. Priests, teachers, nuns or musicians offer an intense presentation on a specific aspect of faith to the parish, calling the faithful to deepen their faith.

Fr. Larry Richards, Pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, PA, and Spiritual Director of the TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie, commanded the congregation with his passion for Christ and Christ’s Truth. (Check out his website here.)

In one segment, Fr. Larry recounts some time spent with a friend on a farm. He remembers going out with his friend to bring the cattle into the barn. A couple of cows, including one with a newborn, had wandered off up a hill. The calf would not have made it down the hill on his own. The farmer decided that he would round up the cows, and Larry would tend to the calf. Larry’s friend lifted the calf onto his neck and instructed him: “no matter what, don’t let go or he’ll fall and break his neck.”

The calf started out calm. But as they moved, it began to cry out. Larry tightened his grip on the calf’s legs, and the calf began to wriggle, then several times tried to jump away. Larry struggled to maintain a grip on the calf. It struggled violently against Larry's hold, kicking and bleating the whole way. Calves are much stronger than you’d imagine. It shook in fear and urinated down Larry’s back. They arrived at the barn, and he set the calf down, who ran to its mother and attached itself to her udder.

Larry suffered a few bruises, a strained shoulder and a very stiff neck. While soaking in a bath to remove the funk of calf pee, he heard his Lord. “Larry, now you understand, for this is what my flock does to me.”

A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the father Knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.

As members of the faithful, it’s important to understand our failings, both individually and as a body (broken and scattered though it may be), so that we might grow in our relationships with God, and understand better the faith we all so deeply desire. I think of those Christians who expend hours and hours of effort repeatedly regurgitating all the past mistakes in others, for the sole purpose of tearing them down. They mean well, I’m sure, but they, too, are members of Christ's flock, and should remember that we all find ourselves crying, wriggling and trying to escape his hold out of our own fear, because we can't understand that He's just trying to carry us home.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:11-16

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

"Blessed are you among women,
Blessed in turn all women, too.
Blessed they with peaceful spirits,
Blessed they with gentle hearts."

-Hail Mary, Gentle Woman by Carey Landry

Dedicated to all mothers.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Enduring Story Of Good & Evil

I admit it. I am a Trekker.

Tonight my Trekker husband and I are going to the Midnight showing of the long anticipated film, the latest bearing the legendary name: STAR TREK. (No, we are not wearing our Starfleet uniforms.)

Why am I such a fan?

It’s the premise, right in those iconic voice-overs by Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard leading into the opening theme songs of both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” Every week the crew would face a terrible villain, one whose defeat would require imagination, intellect, and perfect cooperation among the crew. Not to mention in many instances a bold leap of faith as they risked their lives to save the day.

The battle of good vs. evil is a plot line enduring all points on the space-time continuum.

It endures because, I think, the battle of good vs. evil is very real, and a part of our every day lives. It doesn’t often entail a fleet of Romulans decloaking off the starboard bow ready to launch a torpedo at you (often? How about never?), but our battles are pretty harrowing at times. I certainly wouldn’t want to endure any one of my battles alone.

God IS with me, and because of God I’m not alone. How blessed I am to have friends, family and His Church. My daily battles with all things evil, no matter how large or small, are won with their help—with their prayers, their friendship, their bold leap of faith for me, and mine in turn for them. When we cooperate with grace, there’s no evil we can’t overcome.

I lift my eyes to the hills,
From where does my help come?
My help comes from The LORD
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved,
He who keeps you will not slumber,
Behold, he who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper,
The LORD is your shade;
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil,
The LORD will keep your life,
Your goings out and your comings in
From this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121
Live long and prosper.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Catholic Vision For Leading Like Jesus

In a world of questionable ethics and shady business dealings, Owen Phelps, Ph.D., provides Catholics with a timely blueprint for honest, Christian leadership in his book, The Catholic Vision For Leading Like Jesus. Phelps addresses a real need within Catholicism, which is teaching Catholics “how to integrate their Christian faith with their lives as leaders at home, at work, and in their communities”.

Phelps perceptively explores what it means to be a leader within the context S3 Leadership: being a servant, being a steward, and being a shepherd. As I worked through this book I gained both insight and confirmation regarding my own ministries, as well as into my role in the workplace. Several chapters are dedicated to the concept of servant leadership, beginning with the embodiment of servant-leader that is Jesus, followed by a call to examine both our intentions and our actions, with some practical advice to incorporate into our daily lives.

Segments called “In the Family”, “On the Job”, “In the Community”, and “In the Church” are sprinkled through the chapters, along with diagrams, quotes and brief commentaries on various related topics. Phelps also includes at the end of each chapter “reflection questions”, which I think challenge the reader enough without being either too trite or overly confusing. I can easily envision a leader’s workshop or group study on this book. In fact, I’m recommending it to my Pastor in this capacity. The Catholic Vision For Leading Like Jesus is definitely worth the read to anyone in business, management or ministry.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus - S3 Leadership .

Saturday, May 2, 2009


"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Matthew 13:3-8

A few years ago my husband was given some bulbs of hardy red-skinned garlic, a strain that came to America over 100 years ago from Southern Italy through Ellis Island Philadelphia. The first year the garlic grew moderately. The second year the yield was horrible. The bulbs were tiny, the flavor was mild and the skin was more brownish than red. Last year, however, the bulbs were huge, the skin veined with deep red and the garlic fragrance rich and pungent through the skin.

We used seeds from the same strain every year. What was the difference this last year?

The soil.

The first year, we tilled the ground and planted the bulbs. The soil wasn't too bad as it was. The second year we did the same thing—till the ground and plant the bulbs. We didn’t, however, do anything to replenish the nutrients in the soil that were used by our crop the previous year. The soil that year was hard, weedy and dense.

For last year's crop, we learned our lesson. We put in a lot of work to prepare the soil. We tilled in sand and some compost, and mulched with a thick layer of pine chips to protect the seeds, and then weeded regularly until we harvested last July.

We still had a few of our bulbs not growing as perfectly as they could have grown--we think there were still some nutrient-depleted pockets and a few areas along the edge of the garden with poor drainage. So we worked the soil again--tilled in bone meal and dried blood along with more compost and sand before we planted again in October. We have 150 plants this year, and they look beautiful so far.

Sometimes rich soil just happens, and sometimes it doesn't. If it does just happen, it doesn't stay rich for long. Working that soil is the most important part of gardening, and it takes deliberate, dedicated and dynamic effort to keep the soil nutrient-rich and suitable for planting.

Even in ancient times they didn't just drop the seeds and let them grow. The rich soil, composted and weeded during the growing season, was left in the hot, summer sun after spring's harvest. In the fall, the seed that was sown on the "rich soil" was then ploughed under—a laborious undertaking after the heat of the summer hardened the earth.

Isn't this the same with us?

"In toil shall you eat [the ground's] yield all the days of your life." Genesis 3:17

It takes effort to keep our hearts and souls ready to perpetually receive the Word which is Christ (John 1) that we might be fruitful unto His purpose. This effort requires letting go of the notion that spontaneous, serendipitous encounters with grace are sufficient. Are relationships and friendships lasting and fruitful when left to chance?

A deliberate, dedicated and dynamic plan encompassing our prayer life, our formative efforts and our love for each other will reap extraordinary harvests year after year. The more we develop our habits of prayer, the more we get to know ourselves. In time, we begin to see better our less fertile areas and adjust our efforts; and the more fruitful an instrument for our Lord we become.

And the bountiful harvest is worth every bit of the efforts.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Power of Forgiveness

"For the Vatican, I may still be the man who tried to assassinate the Polish Pope, but now I have changed, I am a different man." These are the words of Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to shoot and kill Pope John Paul II in 1981. Agca recently announced that he is going to become a Roman Catholic, a decision he made on the 26th anniversary of his assassination attempt. Read the Catholic News article here. This happened while I was in grade school, and I still carry that image of JPII in that prison cell with Agca: holding his hand, embracing him, praying with him and forgiving him for trying to murder him. It was a powerful lesson in the power of forgiveness.

Just the other night, a group of friends and I were gathered, and as we discussed how we witness Resurrection in our lives, one of us made the following statement: "do you ever notice how when you forgive a person, you love them even more than you did before?" True love has the power to heal, to transform, even to raise a person from the dead. In Scripture we see story after story of Jesus healing, transforming, and raising from the dead, all prompted by this single statement: "your sins are forgiven you." Look at the effect forgiveness had in this man's life.

I'm reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti, who at 12-years-old was attacked and then stabbed to death by an 18-year-old neighbor. She forgave him on her deathbed, but it was a dream of Maria gathering flowers for him while he served a 30-year sentence for her murder that changed him. When he was released, he begged her mother's forgiveness and became a Capuchin.

Is this what we're experiencing in the heart of Mehmet Ali Agca? Time will tell if Agca is a changed man. Know what? Everything in my heart wants to believe him, because I believe in the power of forgiveness.

On this First Friday of May, let us all pray:

Lord Jesus, forgiver of all sins, we praise you and we thank you for giving us the example of John Paul II, who loved you so much, and took to heart Your command to love our enemies and pray for them. Today we take Your command to heart as well, and forgive Mehmet Ali Agca, and all who attack the Catholic faith in any way. As we forgive him, and pray that he continue to seek You in his life, we praise and thank you for Your incomprehensible love. AMEN.
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