Come To The Water

baptismWater gives life.

Our lives begin in water. Water makes up 60-70% of our bodies. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. Plants need water to grow. Fish need water to swim. Animals and humans need water to drink. Human beings can survive for weeks or even months without food but only days without water. Water is essential for life on Earth.

Water destroys.

Flooding devastates homes, crops, and at times kills human and animal life. Flash floods can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Drowning in the United States is the second leading cause of death in children 12 and younger. Tsunamis and tidal waves can wipeout nearly everything in their paths.

Water fascinates.

Most people are drawn to water. Swimming pools and water parks draw millions everyday. Water fountains, pond pumps and sprinklers dot our landscapes. Ocean-front and lake-front properties are sold at a premium. We spend precious vacation time getting to beach destinations just to play in the water. Boating, skiing, canoeing, kayaking and various other water recreations vie for our time and money.

Yesterday, as our youngest grandchild Ainsley was being baptized, I was thinking about how basic water is to our human existence; how ordinary; how necessary; how miraculous.

It’s fitting then that Baptism requires water. Through the waters of Baptism we are born to new life in Christ and sin is destroyed. After Baptism we live the rest of our lives fascinated by God’s unending power to transform our lives. Baptism isn’t a one-time event. It’s an invitation to “play in the water”. To immerse ourselves in the love around us. To refresh ourselves when our journey becomes burdensome. To cleanse ourselves when darkness overtakes our spirit. The life-giving water of Baptism never leaves us. It remains essential for our life on Earth.

cousinsMy prayer for Ainsley is that her life will be filled with love, peace and joy. And that she will always know that she has been strengthened by the power of that baptismal water. We have all been blessed by having experienced it with her.



Ainsley, I hope you find your wings. Love, Pawpaw




Why Being Catholic Today Is Still Relevant

Last weekend our daughter-in-law was formally received into the Catholic Church. Although baptized as an infant her faith journey was varied and non-traditional. Colleen is a very spiritual person and has being searching for some time. I believe she has found a home in the Catholic Church. As she journeyed through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for the last nine months and celebrated her reception into the Church last Sunday my prayer has remained the same: “God please hold her in your hands.”

RCIAPolitically I am often at odds with the Church. The treatment of women in our Church is disappointing to say the least. Too often it seems that the hierarchy is more concerned with THE RULES than with the people – the people of God. Public debate about homosexuality, girl altar servers, women priests, birth control, celibacy, church finances, priest sexual abuse, and true Catholic identity (whatever that means) serve to be painful distractions from Jesus’ message of love and peace. The Official Church sadly seems to be more concerned about power than empowerment; about righteousness than about justice; more focused on sin than on forgiveness; more dedicated to doctrine than spirituality.

But listen to Jesus’ words:  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  He didn’t say, but first make certain that the person you love is worthy. He didn’t say make sure that they have followed ALL the rules. He didn’t say judge and then love. He simply told us to love another. As Catholic Christians that is our call. To love. As Christ loves.

Recently I have witnessed this love so many times. My family and I have certainly been held in God’s hands. As I watched Colleen receive the Sacraments of our Church for the first time I felt the presence of Christ in our midst. As her sponsor Kim placed a hand on her shoulder I knew it was Jesus’ touch that Colleen would feel. Last week we attended “Grandparents’ Day” at our granddaughter Anna’s school. During Mass that morning, Anna sat between us and sang Sanctuary – a hymn that I have always loved but now has new meaning having heard it in her sweet voice. Last night my ‘Partners in Mission’ group visited residents at Villa Theresa Haven, a care facility for the elderly and infirmed. Our simple visit brought some light and life to those we met but mostly we were blessed by the love that they returned to us. Being Catholic is relevant today because love is always the answer. And God’s love for us is timeless and boundless.

As Catholic Christians we can squabble about protocol and theology. We can disagree about traditions and priorities. But Jesus remains our mediator. And love is what defines us.

“Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary; Pure and holy, tried and true.”




If church could be like the beach, I would go every day…

Last week we were in Florida. Every year when we make our annual jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico I realize that I could very easily become a beach bum. I love the beach. I love the sound of the waves crashing. I love being in the water even with the occasional seaweed wrapping around my legs. Give me a sunny day on the shore with a Corona® or a margarita and a beach chair and I could be happy for hours (or at least until the drinks run dry or the sun goes down).

beachI think the best thing about being on the beach is that no one seems to care about how you look; if you’re on time; if you’re rich or poor; if you’re well-read; if you’re young or old; if you’re fit or a little flabby. Of course when you are on the beach you will see some beautiful beach bodies and some hideous creatures, too. I’d like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. But it doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The beach is the great equalizer. If you want to run along the shore that’s fine. If you want to lay on a blanket or a lounge chair all day that’s fine, too. If you want to build sand castles or search for sea shells or watch for dolphin sightings, or ride the waves on your boogie board, or just feel the sand between your toes, no one cares. No one judges what you do or don’t do.

Everyone seems to accept you as you are. And no one seems to be bothered to follow anyone else’s idea of what beach time should be. No schools. No rules. No fools. Just be yourself. And be accepted. The beach has room for all.

I’d like to think our church could be like the beach: Room for all. No need for everyone to be the same. Or have the same expectations of holiness. I believe that like the beach, our Eucharist is the great equalizer. We all come to the table from different places but we share in the love of Christ. God doesn’t judge us on our appearance or actions (or inactions) but what is in our hearts.

Like the beach, the church should have room for us all. And a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt once in a while.



Hippity Hoppity, Easter’s On Its Way

The origins of the Easter Bunny are unclear, but he is mentioned in early German writings. The first edible Easter bunnies appeared in Germany in the 1800s, and were made out of sugar and pastry. As a kid I often wondered what the Easter Bunny had to do with eggs. Polish folklore has the Virgin Mary offering eggs to the soldiers guarding Christ on the cross, as she begged them to be merciful, her tears left stains on the eggs. Eggs and bunnies and candy. There are so many conflicting images that all seem to converge at Easter in some pastel menagerie with chocolate and jelly beans thrown in for good measure.

EasterRecently I’ve read commentaries by some Christian writers complaining about the commercialization of Easter; how Easter is demeaned by the purchase of candy and greeting cards, etc. In 2013 the average consumer spent $145.13 on everything from Easter candy to new clothes. But wasn’t Easter originally a pagan feast to celebrate spring? Painting and dying eggs pre-dates Christianity. It seems that early Christians just conveniently supplanted what was already a festival. Sort of, “Hey, we already have a party – let’s make it about Jesus!”

As a Christian, I’m not really bothered that Easter was formally a pagan feast day. I’m equally undisturbed with the Easter Bunny sharing the day that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we find new life in Christ, why not celebrate the new life around us? And if you’re not a Christian, I still hope that you can enjoy a dyed egg and a chocolate bunny (or whatever means springtime to you). According to the National Confectioners Association’s survey 87% of people create an Easter basket for their kids. This just makes for happy kids. It needn’t diminish the importance of Easter. To the contrary, it should emphasize the joy we share. Why not “wear your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it?”

For Christians this is our Holy Week. This is the most sacred time in our Church calendar. We celebrate and remember the passion and death of Jesus. We begin this week with Palm Sunday and continue through Holy Thursday and Good Friday, as we journey with Jesus to the cross. On Saturday at the Easter Vigil we celebrate His rising anew. Through His death and resurrection we are saved!

This year I’ve decided that instead of being annoyed with the secularization of Easter, I will embrace the world that God has given us. Whether I encounter those who are thankful for a Savior or folks who are just thankful for spring weather, I will try to share their joy. As some of my friends celebrate Passover and others are looking forward to a long weekend, why create conflict? Instead of looking for something to be angry about or focusing on our differences I will try to bring peace and reconciliation to those I meet.

I believe that God created a world big enough for all of us. So I’ll be singing Alleluia on Easter and later if I spy a bunny in my garden or a jellybean should find its way to me, so much the better.




Sister Stories

St. Catherine University in Minnesota is inaugurating National Catholic Sisters Week as part of Women’s History Month. Part of the planned events include Sisters telling their own stories.

“In an attempt to record untold stories by women who have served for decades in challenging ministries, St. Catherine is sponsoring a student-led initiative. Students are producing interviews or short films about sisters they know to create an extensive oral history.”

You can read more about here:

I’ve been honored in my life to have heard some Sisters tell their stories. And I have been even more honored by actually being a small part of some of those stories.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters - Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters – Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

As one of millions that was blessed to be taught by religious Sisters, I thank God for their dedication and guidance that carried me through my grade school and high school years.

As a nephew of three religious Sisters, I thank God for the love that they brought to our family and the remarkable examples that they each gave me. Simple, courageous, faith-filled, loving women – all three.

Some of my very dearest friends are religious Sisters and I have received countless blessings and boundless joy from them. What would my life be like without the vocation and service of these women? Thankfully I will never have to know.

I have three granddaughters and while I don’t know if they will ever become religious Sisters, I do pray that the examples of the women religious that I know and have known will strengthen them on their journeys through life. I hope that they are fortunate enough to hear all of these Sisters’ stories: Courage, compassion, dignity, devotion and love.

What more could I ask for my beautiful girls?




Today is Ash Wednesday and so starts my Lenten journey. Bring on the sackcloth and ashes; bring on the fasting and purging of excess! Take away the adornments and the Alleluia! Strip the altar bare and forego the glad tidings. Time to embrace suffering, loss, and sadness! REPENT!

But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus bring us the “Good News”? Why must my journey through Lent be dismal? Why must these 40 days be all doom and gloom? Following the rules of fasting and abstinence doesn’t mean my Lenten journey must be joyless – does it? I suppose due to a healthy dose of Catholic guilt I’ve always felt bad about enjoying things a little too much during Lent. But thanks to my grandson Noah, this year will be different for me. Jesus said, “Bring the little children to me” so therefore I’m a big believer in three year-old wisdom.

This is what Noah taught me:

Last Sunday at Mass the choir was singing “Stand By Me” and of course the refrain repeats “stand by me” several times. During this hymn Noah launched into a sort of free-flowing liturgical dance (this boy loves music!). Anyway, I quietly suggested that he take a seat next to me. In a very loud and emphatic three year-old voice he told me, “But them just say-ded STAND BY ME!”

And he proudly stood. Rightly so.

Noah standing and singing!

Noah standing and singing!

By Noah’s example it occurred to me that standing (or dancing) or whatever joy we feel shouldn’t be diminished because of “what we should do”. God gives us joy to share with others; love is only love when given away. Lent shouldn’t just be about ‘giving up’ but also about ‘letting go’. Letting go of my preconceptions of what is right or wrong; what is worthy or unworthy; what is vital and what is unnecessary.

So this year I will reflect and pray and atone but I will not be sad. I will carry joy in my heart and I will STAND (and with Noah’s help I might even dance a little).

I hope that your spiritual journey this Lenten season is filled with hope, love and peace. But mostly joy!

When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.                      Matthew 6:17-18



Saints Be Praised! (well, Saint Denis anyway…)

Today is the Feast Day of St. Denis. He is the patron Saint of Paris and France and headache sufferers.

I’ve always been happy to have Denis as my saint’s name because he’s kind of a maverick and a tough guy. According to legend Denis was Bishop of Paris in the third century and was martyred by beheading. He is said to have picked up his own head and walked six miles, preaching a sermon the entire way. Besides being the patron saint of headache sufferers (for obvious reasons), Denis is also the patron saint of people dealing with frenzy and strife. This is not surprising considering that six mile trek while carrying his own severed head. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it!

St. Denis - Outside the Madeline in Paris (depicted with head intact)
St. Denis – Outside the Madeleine in Paris  (depicted with head intact)

Of course I admire the “saintly” saints who prayed and fasted and gave up all worldly possessions to follow Jesus’ call. We all love the saints who lived simple lives and made tremendous sacrifices for their faith but there’s something about a guy that’s got Denis’s spunk. I mean even the biggies like Francis and Theresa and Patrick and Clare didn’t carry around their own heads post mortem. So in my book Denis is a saint to emulate. Not only was he tough but he was cool. Let’s call it grace under pressure – extreme pressure.

My Aunt Gene Marie used to send me a ‘Saints Day’ card on Denis’s feat day and I will miss that again this year. When Alzheimer’s took it’s grip she forgot about Saint Denis and was sometimes a little fuzzy about who I was, too. But she’s the one who first introduced me to the saint who shares my name. And I have always taken a certain amount of pride (is that a sin?) in the fact that my patron saint was a badass who defied his Roman persecutors!

I like to think that Aunt Gene and Denis are in heaven having a conversation about that fateful day in Paris so many centuries ago…



P.S. A couple of years ago my grandson was Saint Denis at his school’s annual All Saints’ Day celebration. More pride…

Francis Gives Me Hope

Pope Francis certainly has the attention of the press. And much of the faithful. And me.

He has shown himself to be a humble man willing to embrace the poorest amongst us. He has bucked the traditionalists who wanted more theological dogma. He has exasperated the Church hierarchy while they are busy telling us what he meant to say. Francis keeps shaking things up. Today’s interview in America Magazine only serves to further frustrate his critics.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

Read the whole article here –

For several years now I have felt cold, distant and isolated in my Church. Far too long I have felt marginally Catholic (or not Catholic at all). The cultural battle within our Church has divided communities, parishes and families. Instead of joining together in prayer and worship we are often focusing our time and talent on divisive issues. Who is worthy? Who is authentic? Who really belongs at this table?

But where is the charity? Where is the compassion? Where is Jesus in all of this?

When I listen to Pope Francis words, “Without hope, we can walk, but we’ll become cold, indifferent, self-absorbed,  distant and isolated” my hope is once again restored.

And with HOPE my faith is being restored.

Pope FrancisMore powerful than Francis’ words; his love for all of God’s creation and his humility should be an example for us. Ultra-conservative Catholics are in an uproar because he hasn’t devoted enough attention to church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Instead he has made poverty and social justice a priority. He is embracing all of us not just a select few who seem obsessed with dogmatic allegiance.

“This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

I want to belong to that Church; the one that “throws the doors open” and welcomes us all. A ‘big tent’ Church that has room for saints and sinners. I want a Church where my daughter and granddaughters will be given the same dignity and opportunity as men.

Francis gives me hope…



A World of Brothers and Sisters

At the World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis asked young people to “create a world of brothers and sisters.” He also visited one of Rio’s notorious favelas (slums) to call attention to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized.

What a message for our youth today: Love all people as a brother or sister and stop chasing material happiness to the detriment of those with less.

Pretty counter-cultural stuff. Do we as the parents and grandparents of today’s youth support these ideals? Do we show our love for our enemies by our words and actions? Do we support global justice? Where do we stand on immigration reform? These are not easy questions to answer. Who amongst us wants less for our own children? Isn’t the American Dream a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward mobility? But should our personal success and upward mobility be at the expense of our brothers and sisters? As Christians shouldn’t we have a preference for the poor? Francis gives us much to ponder.

It’s hard sometimes to think globally. It’s too big. Too distant. It’s too removed from my world. It’s easy to dismiss Darfur or Egypt or the slums of Rio. But what about my brothers and sisters in my own community?

Recently two failing school districts in Saint Louis have requested help from other districts, one being the district in which I reside. Because these failing districts have lost their accreditation students graduating from their high schools find acceptance at colleges and universities nearly impossible. There is a myriad of reasons for these failures but mostly it is economic and poor kids are suffering. So while the Pope is imploring our youth to reach out to those in need; to create a world of brothers and sisters, some Christians in my community are fighting to keep these “unwanted students” out of our schools. There are concerns about property values, violence and drugs entering our school systems. This matter is further complicated by the fact that these two predominately black districts have requested help from two predominately white districts.

I understand and appreciate concerns for the safety of our children. I also realize that these are complex issues that the local media has reduced to sound-bites. But how can we foster “a world of brothers and sisters” across the ocean when we can’t peacefully and lovingly accept those brothers and sisters across the river? What would Jesus do?

I think that Francis is telling us. And I suspect that more prayer will be required…



Reconciliation From Within

In search of spiritual nourishment, I have recently inquired about joining a lay partnership of a religious order. This is a daunting task: the unholy (me) joining in prayer and mission with the holy (The Sisters of the Most Precious Blood).

The Sisters’ mission sounds simple: To live the charism of reconciliation in their daily lives, work and ministry. But it sounds overwhelming when I try to insert myself into this equation: To live the charism of reconciliation in MY daily life. What does that mean?

Charism is defined by Webster’s as an extraordinary power given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. And reconciliation is defined as the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. Or the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.

This is hard to wrap my head (and heart) around. How can I bring peace to others when I’m often not at peace with myself? And then I re-read the mission statement. The charism (power given by the Holy Spirit) of reconciliation (finding a way to make two different ideas true at the same time). I re-read it again and again. And finally it hits me: this mission statement is both simple and profound; two different ideas but the same in this mission.

reconciliationNow for the practical applications: Judge less; love more. Exploit less; care more. Take less; give more. Worry less; pray more.

I’m going to pray that God will guide me as I discern whether or not to join the Sisters as a lay Partner in Mission. I struggle at times with the arch-conservatives in my Church. I often question the hierarchy. I see a lot of un-loving behavior. So I’m praying that I find a way a to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time. And of course my peace will be found in the Holy Spirit.

My two year-old grandson Noah often says at mass, “More Alleluia!” because he loves the music.  I suppose we could all use more Alleluia. I know I could.