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I hope everybody is having a wonderful Christmastide, and wish you a very happy and blessed new year!

I had a lovely visit with my beloved family in Jacksonville, Florida.  I attended Christmas Day Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Jacksonville.  It’s an old church, and probably the most beautiful church in which I have attended Mass–the stained glass windows were stunning, and they had large, very beautiful Stations of the Cross.  Here is a photo that shows some of the windows around the altar:

(photo by Flickr user stephg67)

After Mass, I helped my mom and sister prepare our Christmas dinner, we exchanged gifts, and then ate.  It was a beautiful day, perfectly befitting the birthday of our Savior.

Now the new year has begun, beginning with the beautiful Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!  It is comforting to begin the year knowing that we are secure in the love of God and Mary, and that they will see us through, come what may.

Here at home, I’ve been busy doing my new year’s cleaning and de-cluttering.  I’m always amazed by how many things I have around that are just taking up space and gathering dust.  It’s always liberating to get rid of stuff, keeping only things that are meaningful, important, and/or useful… to clean things and make them bright… to do some re-arranging of spaces.  It gives me a feeling of peace and pride in my home, simple (almost spartan) though it is.  I hope I can buy some more furniture this year!  I did just make my last car payment (YAY!!!) so maybe I can put some of that money aside for furniture.

I received my Patron Saint for 2010 from The Pious Sodality of Church Ladies.  This year’s Patron Saint is:

St John Neumann

Pray for the Church in America

And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. [Gal 6, 9]

I think this is a perfect Patron Saint for me–and for the Church in this country!  He did so much to nurture, grow, and lead the Church in the U.S., and was the first American man to be canonized.  A Catholic immigrant himself (having been born and grown up in Bohemia), he was ordained in this country, and lived and worked here for the rest of his life, building churches and schools for his fellow Catholic immigrants.  I think I shall try to visit his national shrine in Philadelphia this year!

I have not forgotten my previous Patron Saints of the Year, St. Martha and St. Jason.  They are still a positive influence on my life… especially my home life and relationships with family and friends.  I’m sure that will always be true, and thank God for it!  And now, this year, I will perhaps gain a better outlook on my larger home, America.

I look forward to seeing what this new year has in store.  I hope it contains lots of happiness, blessings, and growth for you and for me!

For now, I must get back to my cleaning!

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I’m not the only one who was excited about the snow on Wednesday.

Drew Johnson at University of Dallas sent me this, saying, “A student took this of the lawn between Jerome Hall and the Church of the Incarnation. It says SNOWING!”

Love it!  :D

As I’ve probably mentioned before, one of my cats has been ill since summer.  The doctors have been stumped as to what is wrong with her.  No matter what we do, no matter how much money I spend, the situation just doesn’t get any better.  Coping has been very hard, and it gets harder as time goes by.  The nature of her illness is particularly distressing to my home life–basically, let’s just say, she can’t control her bowels, and she isn’t always able to get to one of the litter boxes.

Last night, after frantically trying to clean up a mess right beside my bed around 1:00 in the morning, I was lying awake, anxious and angry–not at the cat, but at the situation.

For the hundredth time, I was saying, “Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can keep going with this!  I just want her to get well, but I also need my own health and sanity!  Oh Lord, please let the vet find a solution and a cure!  I just can’t take it any more!  Oh Lord, give me a sign that everything is going to be all right.  I just have to know that things are going to be all right…”

Whenever I ask for a “sign,” I always feel sort of foolish, as if God is laughing at me and saying, “A sign?  You don’t need a sign from Me!  Don’t be silly.  Why do you ask for a sign when you know full well I’ve always taken care of you?”

I was so tired and so desperate that I didn’t care how foolish I was being.  In fact, as I slowly fell back to sleep, I added, “I know… You could make it snow.  That could be the sign.  A good snow, enough to make the world white.”

Now, snow in Dallas is pretty rare, and snow on 2 Dec. is almost unheard of.  Oh, the weather forecaster had said there might be a flake or two mixed in with the rain this morning, but nothing remarkable.  When I woke before sunrise, I looked out the window and saw nothing but rain.  Yes I had been a fool.  Again.

As I put on my shoes, I said to God, “Lord, I know I shouldn’t ask for signs.  I know that everything will be OK.  You always make everything OK.  I was just tired last night.  Never mind all that talk about signs and snow.  It was just my worry and half-asleep-addled mind talking.”

I thought no more of it… until I pulled out the driveway and realized, “Hey there’s some snow mixed in with the rain.”  And I watched in amazement as, on the way to work, the rain became entirely replaced by snow–big, fat, fluffy flakes of snow!  And they were coming down pretty hard!

A burst of childlike joy and wonder burst forth in my heart.  I laughed out loud.

By the time I got to the university, the grass and plants and cars were being covered with white, and the air was full of white.  The whole world was being made white!

At that point, I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry.  God had given me my sign after all.  It was so amazing and exciting and comforting.  I felt so loved.  And so rejuvenated, refreshed, re-ignited!

I only wish I’d had my camera!  But here is a photo I found online taken in downtown Dallas, probably around the time I was driving to work:

(Photo source: WFAA-TV)

The snow is melted now, but the hope and gratitude in my heart are still burning bright.

And I hear we might get more snow on Friday!  :D

Related Post:

Praying for snow

I just woke from a nap and saw this out my window:

Approaching storm

And about 5 minutes later:

Approaching storm

Approaching storm

It’s starting to rain and thunder now!

Wouldn’t you know… just as I was feeling that I had nothing to write about tonight, I find that a kind correspondent has given me something to share!  And it is something most wonderful!

Many thanks to Mr. Richard Collins from the UK for giving me this story and photos from a very special Mass that took place in celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and–as he reminds me–the 2nd anniversary of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which has liberated the 1962 Mass, what we now know as the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Latin Mass:

Latin Mass on the Feast of the Holy Cross celebrated in ex Italian PoW Chapel

Mass in the Extraordinary Form was celebrated, on the Feast of The Holy Cross, in a Nissan hut in Henllan, West Wales. The hut is the framework to a small Chapel created lovingly by Italian prisoners of war in the final years of World War II. The original Nissan hut is part of a PoW camp where both German and Italian servicemen were held.

One of the main artists responsible for creating images of St Joseph, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Papal Flag, Mario Polito, died only this year. He and his fellow servicemen made pigments from vegetable juices and painted the aisle arches in a fresco style and the sanctuary area and pillars (made of corrugated cardboard) with a faux marble effect.

Tin, from corned (bully) beef tins was used to make candle sticks which look uncannily three dimensional despite being totally flat.

All artwork in the Chapel leads the eye to the primitive painting of The Last Supper in the apse, a lasting testament to the devotion of men held prisoner many miles from their families and loved ones.

The Missa Cantata, in thanksgiving for the second anniversary of the Motu Proprio was celebrated by Father Jason Jones, Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady in Wales at nearby Cardigan and whose parish embraces Henllan.

What a perfectly beautiful and fitting way to celebrate this feast day and this anniversary–and to honor men who made something good in a bad situation!  Here are some of the photos:

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Italian Prisoner of War Camp Mass

Well done to those who created that sacred space, and to those who still preserve and use it today!

St. Dominic statue, Hawkesyard, Staffordshire, UKHappy feast day to my beloved spiritual father, St. Dominic!

Appropriately, I will be on retreat today with my Lay Dominican chapter, praying, studying, fellowshipping.  What better way to spend our founding father’s feast day?

There are two things that struck me early on about St. Dominic, and still today spring to my mind whenever I think of him: courage and trust in divine providence.  Probably because they are two lessons that I most need to learn!  Here are a couple of quotations from Dominican Spirituality : Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP.

An example of courage:

With courage he traveled through the Albigensian country. At times he knew his enemies were planning to kill him, yet he continued on his way. Once they took him, but seeing that he offered no resistance, they asked: “What would you have done, had we carried out our plans?” “I would have begged you to put me to death in the slowest possible way, to cut me to pieces bit by bit so my martyrdom would be prolonged for the good of souls.” Realizing how much he wanted martyrdom, they did not kill him. He was a martyr by desire.

A martyr by desire.  How many of us can say that about ourselves?

On his trust in divine providence:

The very fact that Dominic was willing to found a mendicant Order, one that owned no property and had no revenues, indicates his mighty trust in Divine Providence. He relied on the free-will offerings the faithful would give him. He so believed in God’s help, that he did not want the brethren to store up more food than they needed for a day. That is why they sometimes went hungry. But his faith was rewarded, more than once, by the miracle of the loaves. Both in Bologna and in Rome there were days when the early friars, unknown newcomers, did not get enough from their begging tours. Then they found a bare refectory. There was nothing to place before them. But the Founder had them offer the grace and take their places just the same. At Rome the angels came and distributed a loaf of bread to each friar. This was the answer of Providence to Dominic’s trust.

The sad thing about my having to constantly learn to trust divine providence is that… I know I can trust in it!  I because it has come through for me time after time after time.  Maybe not via the miracle of the loaves, but still in some pretty marvelous ways.  And yet… I still need to work on it.  Why, why is it so easy to lose sight of things like that?

At least I am in good hands.  If anybody can help me master it, it’s St. Dominic.

May his prayers and blessings be with you all… especially my fellow Dominicans!  :)

(photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Hiliaire Belloc

Also known as Hilaire Belloc, he was born on 27 July 1870.  Today would be his 139th birthday.

I don’t remember exactly when I first encountered Belloc.  It was pretty early on in my conversion process.  I think I saw his portrait first.  I thought he looked like a real bruiser.  Not at all what I would have pictured if you’d just told me his name and that he was a Catholic writer and a close friend of G.K. Chesterton.  I got the impression that if anybody could really hammer the faith into me, it would be Belloc.  I wasn’t wrong!

I remember reading his book, The Great Heresies and being shocked… shocked… by the “political incorrectness” of it.  Not only by the “political incorrectness” itself, but by the fact that it was completely forthright and unapologetic.  And not only was I shocked, but also very impressed and inspired.  Belloc came across as a man of true and consummate conviction and passion, who didn’t give a rat’s rear whether anybody liked it or not.

What Belloc did most for me was help me shake off the remnants of the indifferent, lukewarm, and non-committal attitudes that were clinging to me.  He helped me leave behind squishiness in favor of growing a backbone.  I couldn’t possibly remain a mere half-Catholic after reading Belloc!

Like or dislike him, agree or disagree with him, you just can’t have a half-hearted reaction to Belloc.  He got through to me as nobody else could.  Maybe there’s a weakness, or rather a too-hardness,  in my own character, so that I often require great force to get through to me.  As another example, it took photographs of aborted children’s bodies to fully turn me pro-life.  Or maybe we all have areas in which we need to be broken open as brutally as possible in order to “get it.”

That said, in subsequent years, I’ve also come to know and appreciate Belloc’s kinder, gentler, more congenial side.  :)

Let’s raise a glass to “Old Thunder”!

I’ve had a pretty busy morning, including some hurried pic-shootings.

Me in my veil:

Veil 2

My church library, where I volunteer:

St. Jude Library

Some others here.

I now need to eat some lunch, put some laundry in the washer, and relaaaax!  :)

As I mentioned, one of the things I commonly meditate on while praying the Rosary is “What is Christ saying to me in this Mystery?”  This is particularly true of the Sorrowful Mysteries in which we meditate upon His Passion.  It plays into the bigger questions, “Why did Christ suffer and die?  Why did He choose that painful, sorrowful, bloody and violent way?  What was the purpose?”

Crucifixion statue, Charles Bridge, PragueI find that Christ’s answer is quite simple: “You were my purpose.  I did it so that in all of your sufferings, you would know that I went before you, that I bore the brunt for you.  I did it so that you would not be discouraged and give up.  I did it so that you would have the hope and the freedom to persevere.”

A simple answer… but not an easy one.  For it does not provide us any denial of, nor escape from, suffering.  Rather, it exhorts us to suffer well.

Note: these little reflections are just some remembered examples of things that have passed through my mind in pondering these Mysteries.  Words do them only so much justice!  The communication between the soul and God is something much deeper than words.  So, these are not verbatim transcriptions.  Just… impressions, if you will.

I.  The Agony in the Garden. O My child, when all you see before you is darkness, when every course of action threatens to be in vain, when all appears empty and desolate, when even the will of the Father seems oppressive…  Know that I went before you.  When darkness falls over you, know that it is but the shadow of My Cross. Do not despair, but only raise your eyes to see Him who has loved you and given His all. Look also to those beyond, those who remain unmoved beyond the reach of My outstretched arms. Do not scorn them, nor keep them away, but love them as I do.  Bring them, and keep them, near to Me.  Let My Passion not be in vain for even one soul!

II.  The Scourging at the Pillar. O My child, when your body aches, when your flesh is weak, when temptations tear at it, when pain breaks it… Know that I went before you.  That you might be whole and that you might be free to surmount the trials of the flesh, that the edge of all your pains might be dulled, and so that you might not be enslaved to lust or any inordinate desire, I mortified my My own Body, delivered it to the tearing, bruising, bone-breaking flagrum.  And when you think of the cruelties that must yet be borne unjustly by poor souls, know that I am not distant nor indifferent, but that I am bound, defenseless and exposed, to the pillar.

III.  The Crowning with Thorns. O My child, when you are mocked and ridiculed, when you are looked upon with scorn by others who do not see or appreciate your great value and dignity, when others do not recognize you as being My child or the precious and unique person that you are… Know that I went before you.  They made of Me a mock king, when I was the only true King!  But so that you might not not be enslaved to pride, I submitted Myself silently to those humiliations.  I exchanged the crown of glory for a crown of torment.  Those who ridicule you are the ones who press it into My head.  And when you wish to mock or ridicule others, ask yourself whether that is the role you wish to play!

IV.  The Carrying of the Cross. O My child, when the world weighs so heavily upon you that you can barely take another step, when you feel on the verge of collapse, when you find very few familiar and loving faces around you, when you feel pursued to the very brink of death… Know that I went before you.  My head throbbing, blood and sweat burning My eyes, My garments sticking to My torn flesh, the wood of the Cross digging into My shoulder, and unable to break my falls–thus did I make my way to Calvary.  But I remember most My mother’s sorrowful but steadfast gaze, Simon’s strength, Veronica’s compassion, and the women’s tears.  If those humble souls reached out to Me, will I not also reach out to you?

V.  The Crucifixion. O My child, when you are at the moment of death, when you feel utterly forsaken, when your senses grow dim, and when you breathe your last breath… Know that I went before you.  I went before you in death so that you would not be consigned to the dark underworld, but rather would find your rest in My eternal light, forever close to Me and in My presence.  I went before you in death so that death would be destroyed by My eternal, unfailing life.  Do not turn your eyes from Me, nailed, pierced, and emptied, but look upon Me as the vessel broken so that life everlasting might be shed upon you.

(photo by Flickr user Christopher Chan)

Friar with Rosary in handWhat would a blog by a Dominican be without some writings about the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  I’m preparing a variety of Rosary posts.  But it’s funny–I thought that writing about the Rosary would be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for me.  It’s not really, though.  It’s actually pretty challenging.  The Rosary is so fundamental to my spiritual life, that writing about it is sort of like trying to write about  air or water in relation to my physical life!

But there was a time when the Rosary was not part of my life at all.  And just to perhaps get the ball rolling, I thought I’d ponder how that changed.

One of the first things I did when I joined my parish was stop at the parish gift shop and purchase a rosary.  It was nothing fancy, but it was very pretty.  Honestly, that’s one of the main reasons I bought it!  That, and because it just seemed like a Catholic thing to own.  My faith was not deep yet, it was shallow.  So was my attraction to the rosary.  It was a pretty object.  It lay untouched on my living room mantle for several weeks.

And then came the dark, painful, difficult days of grieving and struggling with conversion.  That’s when the rosary came down from the mantle and became a life-line.  I remember feverishly clutching it, staring at the little instructional leaflet that had come with it, reading and repeating the vocal prayers over and over.  I read the names of the Mysteries, but I was in no state of mind for actually meditating upon them.  I had some vague notion that Christ and Mary were present within them.  That was all I needed to know–that they were there.  I was not alone.  And they in Heaven were close, very close, and able to provide singular comfort and even peace to me, in some ineffable way.

As time went on, I became more and more deeply moved by those holy and loving persons.  I became moved to respond and reach for them.  The Mysteries became more than just vague remembrances of stories from the Bible.  Jesus and Mary became more than just nice, comforting presences.  The rosary (the object) became the Rosary (the prayer).  And I came to sense that the praying of it involved much more than just saying words.

I began to seek out how to properly pray the Rosary, how to delve into it and unlock its tremendous power.  I found the Rosary Center online and their “How to Pray the Rosary” page. For each Mystery of the Rosary, they provide 10 simple meditation points, one for each Hail Mary.  With daily practice, I began to understand and to explore each Mystery.  And I learned to do it while praying the vocal prayers.  It was difficult and felt strange at first, but before I knew it, it was completely natural.

I came to realize that the real meaning and the real glory of the Rosary is that meditation on the Mysteries, that forging of a connection and a personal relationship with Christ and Mary and with the wondrous ways in which God worked in their lives, and continues to work in ours too.  The Rosary is a true divine encounter.  In it, our mother whom Christ gave to us, reflects Him for us and guides us closer to Him.  She wants us to know and love Him as she does.  If she is in a position to “pray for us sinners, now and at the our of our death,” it is solely by His grace.  And so, the Rosary is not, as is often misunderstood, an act of worship toward Mary.  She is merely God’s instrument, and the greatest instrument of them all.  And the Rosary is her instrument, and ours.

Now, I cannot imagine life without it!  It is still a life-line, of course, more than ever before.  It is a direct and powerful line straight to Him who is Life Itself.

(photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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