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My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pray the News in 2013

Illustration by Erin Bartholomew
My family is "praying the news" more often now that we have a friend in India. My daughter drew an "Indian Nativity," and we reached out to an Indian priest at our parish, who invited us to help him edit a newsletter to raise funds for schools he founded to serve "untouchables" in India. (See St. Patrick's Academy website here.)
As we leap into 2013, let's make a new resolution to pray the news. For some, checking daily news is as natural as morning coffee. But many become distracted by family needs and life's busyness, and lag in keeping up with local, national and international events. To impact our world in profound and practical ways, we must reach beyond the borders of our homes and communities. 

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta invited people to start within their own circles in serving the lonely and vulnerable. Sometimes we miss poverty right within our families because it comes in such everyday guise. Offering a healing touch and attentiveness to that teen in our life who is shut behind a closed bedroom door, can free them to sanely ponder life's big questions. Honoring our mother and father, especially as they advance in age and frailty, deepens us. Welcoming each little one into our midst with patience stretches us to the point of heroism. Each daily, practical act to make someone feel loved and cared for answers Mother Teresa's call to serve the mission field right in front of our noses. 

My daughter's drawing helped spread
the joy of Christmas through a newsletter 

written by an Indian priest at our parish. We never 
know what little niche we can help fill. 
We only have to show concern and ask.
But in the course of our day, we should expand our reach, exploring regional and international news. We need this context to live informed lives. Praying the news can happen in one session as we read it, or throughout the day, as we go about our tasks. We can pray for those suffering intolerance in some distant land, and pray for areas wracked by disaster, war, famine, or unrest. We can target specific nations, towns and individuals by name, and pray for world leaders, asking that they be guided by God's wisdom. 

Perhaps if we get so specific, if we yearn for peace in foreign lands, it will help feed our desire for peace within our own homes and neighborhoods. And of course, as we fuel peace in our homes, that spirit will permeate our neighborhoods and the world. In 2013, let's become active, prayerful agents of peace.

Through the years, I've prayed and sent funds for tsunami, earthquake or war victims, and the sense of connection with others in distant areas has been strong...but temporal. I pray for a time, and then the need slips into obscurity as news coverage fades. But it's different this year. A missionary priest from India befriended me about four months ago, and now that whole nation has come alive for me. As I daily pray for my new friend's needs as he serves five rural outposts around Andhrah Pradesh, I've become more sensitive to the needs of India as a whole. 

When India's  Godavari River overflowed this year,
my friend Father Varghese Kalapurakudiyil
carried people to safety, fed the hungry and housed
150 homeless at his little church. He and his people 

have inspired my family and friends, opening our eyes to a
whole world of perseverance, courage, and faith in a distant land.

Photo courtesy of Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudiyil.
I keep a binder of photos that my new friend Father Varghese emails me, and bought a map of India to study. I dip into The Times of India,  the BBC online, and other websites for news. So, when my friend mentioned flooding in his area, I turned to the internet to see pictures of the worst flooding to hit Andhrah Pradesh in 20 years. That news never seemed to make the U.S. media outlets. I needed to turn to online articles and video news reports from Indian broadcasters, to learn more about the Godavari waters that ebbed and flowed from September through November. As many as 95,000 residents were displaced and housed in refugee tents, in a Biblical-scale event impacting a vast swath of the eastern Indian coast. 

Just weeks after flood waters dried, another event rocked that nation, that actually did hit news outlets like The New York Times, and sparked debates about the treatment of women in this second most-populated nation in the world. Protests erupted across India after a 23-year-old paramedical student was brutally gang-raped then thrown off a bus in Delhi. The young woman struggled for her life for nearly two weeks, before suffering massive organ shut-down and succumbing to infection from her injuries yesterday. 

Now, don't we have enough problems without joining in so actively in the pain of a distant land? No, we should stay concerned! Our destinies in this age of mobility and connectivity are entwined. Over the weekend, articles ran in The New York TimesThe Times of India and other news outlets about a sickening hate crime committed when a 31-year-old woman in Queens, New York pushed a 46-year-old Hindu from India to his death under a subway train. Arrested on 2nd-degree murder charges, she admitted to "beating" on Muslims and Hindus ever since the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers. We can't ignore such simmering bigotry in our midst. Will we, too, join the ranks of haters, or work toward the eradication of terrorism in all its forms -- even the impulse toward racism and violence that lurks within our own breast?

Staying informed about global issues can help us relate to that co-worker or neighbor from another nation. Keeping our eyes open and our minds active in pondering solutions to problems -- both local and global --  puts us in a state of being informed and, perhaps, able to make a difference. Sometimes violent plots are foiled by people having their eyes and ears open. Other times, real, substantive help occurs after certain connections are made. We hear about a specific need overseas. We happen to know someone who is an expert in that field and give them an alert. Next thing we know, certain solutions are being offered. Such global concern has led to wells being dug for needy communities, war orphans being adopted, and medical professionals forming teams to offer services to remote villages. I was exhilarated when my friends and local contacts mobilized for my priest friend in Andhrah Pradesh, sending him funds to buy a cow for a needy elderly couple, and blankets for the elderly in his struggling villages.

So, in 2013, let's take good care of our own. Let's serve well those suffering within our reach, and in our own families, neighborhoods and nation. But then let's expand our horizons, open our minds, and ponder and pray over needs beyond our borders. Who knows? Our one small voice united to another's could spark a trend. Let's make 2013 notable for how well we respond to God's call to be peacemakers. Let's not limit ourselves to what our puny imaginations can comprehend, but let God call us forth into His vision of peace for humanity.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

May our voices bless

The Ghent Altarpiece, Singing Angels,
Jan Van Eyck, 15th-Century Dutch.
One Advent/Christmas reflection on Silence, one on Voices:

To reach my popular post "Keep Silence This Advent," click here.

And here is my new reflection, which will post this weekend in the SQPN-affiliated Catholic Vitamins podcast V-- For Voices. My Missionary Moment for that podcast features my father reading his morning offering, and reflecting on its meaning, plus my daughter singing Et in Terra Pax:

By Marianna Bartholomew

Voices -- can babble, argue, demand and demean. Or they can gently, sweetly calm...speak words of peace and love, and unity.

Voices can be heard too seldom, in the life of a man or woman alone, in a new city, estranged from all that is familiar. Voices can be rare in the life of the elderly, beyond demands to take medicine, or to move here or there, or to head to bed or awaken.

Voices can rattle the nerves of a young mother, when it’s dinnertime and the toddlers are hungry and the husband reaches home on a late train from work. Voices can shake the confidence of young and old, when they are teasing, sarcastic, tempting or over-demanding.

But at their best, voices bless. Voices reach through history, through the ages, forming our foundations, our heritage. Voices repeat and resound in oral traditions that shape, guide and celebrate. Voices through radio, television or internet can be powerful agents for good or evil. Voices through history, can be great educators. Voices should be heeded.

The voices of wise men and women of faith resonate through the ages and are available to us today, if only sought.

Listen to the voice of a saintly Catholic from more than 1200 years ago:

Christ the True Vine Greek Icon, 16th C.

Rod of the Root of Jesse

Rod of the Root of Jesse,
Thou, Blossom of Mary born,
From that thick shady mountain,
Cam’st glorious forth this morn:
Of her, the Ever-Virgin,
Incarnate wast Thou made,
The immaterial Essence,
The God by all obeyed!

In Balaam’s ancient vision
The Eastern seers were skilled;
They traced the constellations,
And joy their spirits filled:
For Thou, bright Star of Jacob,
Ascending in Thy might,
Summoned these first Gentiles here
To worship in Thy light.

As on a fleece descending
The gentle dews distil,
As rain o’erflows the cistern
The Virgin didst Thou fill.
Tarshish and Ethiopia,
The Isles and Araby,
And Media, leagued with Sheba,
Fall down and worship Thee.

By St. Cosmas (d. 760)
Translated by J.M. Neale

So, we have the wisdom of the saints, and we have the wisdom of our elders. Do we take time to sit and listen? Here is wisdom from my father, a 94-year-old man, rich in experience, who learned what faith is from loving parents. He speaks especially of his father. Born into poverty by the stockyards of Chicago, his passion for learning and solid footing in faith uplifted him to become a mechanical engineer and patriarch of a large and growing family. He shares here his morning prayer, offered to the Lord day in, day out, for decades beyond counting:

Morning Offering
Thank you, Almighty Father, for this moment 
and for another beautiful day to do your work: 
to love and to prove myself worthy 
of the eternal reward prepared for me in heaven. 

I will greet the new day with a song and a smile.
I know You are with me and I dedicate this day to You. 
Let my love for you, my wife, my family and all mankind 
shine in my every good work every day of my life. 

I will live life to the hilt, seize every opportunity, 
smile at all adversity, and revel in the joy and wonder 
of a full and productive life 
in this wonderful world of your creation.  

-- By Joseph F. Robin, Sr.

MB: So, did you always feel this way?
JR: Yes, I think so...most of the time. But if somebody asked me to put it down into words I might not have said everything there. But the gist of the thing is that you're telling God that you will be what He wants you to be...and He wants me to say that freely and openly and grab everything he has to offer.
MB: Did you learn that from your Dad?
JR: I think my father did live that way...he was a very, very fine man. And I think he did his job just about like nobody else I ever knew.
MB: Did he put all his heart into it?
JR: Absolutely.

Finally, we have the voices of youth. Do we listen? Do we encourage our youth to express what is most excellent within them? What frightens or confuses them? Do we placate our youth with movies and good times, new clothes and new cars, but not care for their spirit? Here is the voice of one young person who has lived and loved for 18 years….in whom the faith of her parents and grandparents has taken root and flowered. Her faith spills into song and wishes peace upon the earth, in the traditional Latin piece, Et in Terra Pax:

(Erin Bartholomew sings) Et in terra pax, hominibus, bonae voluntatis, Et in terra pax, hominibus, pax, et in terra pax, hominibus

God’s blessings upon you, these final days of Advent. Wishing you a blessed Christmas filled with only fine and loving voices and a New Year brightened by the Lord’s sweet voice daily guiding and cheering you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas crafts can heal

Origami crane my daughter crafted with paper she
decorated with markers. A cheap option for the expensive
paper you find in stores.
We have to think of the children. No matter if economic woes, natural disasters, and the madness of the Sandy Hook tragedy is finding us crawling, rather than leaping toward Christmas. We have to carve out time to engage the young in something that will turn their minds to something seasonal and beautiful. Crafting can turn our minds from tragedy -- and toward how we might be a gift to others. And handcrafted items can not only be more thoughtful and healing for those both making and receiving them, these items ease the burden on families, costing just pennies to make. 

Making something beautiful out of nearly nothing can be a virtue. My Grandma stowed old buttons, wrapping paper, fabric remnants, etc, and turned out gifts of necklaces, gift tags and cheerful bedroom slippers. Depression and World War II generations knew not to throw useful scraps away they could use later. Austerity mixed with creativity can yield great results.

1)   Clothespin crucifix. Fine crucifixes are expensive, but children can create a nice crucifix for their or a loved one's room by gluing the wood parts of hinged clothespins to cardboard. For more color, decorate pins with crayons and markers.
2)   Paper Chain garlands. Contact paper or gift wrapper strips make great paper chains, but kids could even use crayons, markers or paint to color newspaper strips to get the same effect. Hang garlands around thresholds or on the tree.
My daughter taught me to fold these 
cranes, which make great 
ornaments strung on thread. 
Challenging but fun.
      3)   Jesse Tree ornaments. See post below and find a link here for designs that could be drawn on a paper circle or felt to make colorful ornaments.
      4)   Origami ornaments. Even adults and older teens love this one. My daughter makes her own origami paper by using watercolors or markers to decorate white paper with Asian-inspired designs. Origami designs can be found at the library or online.   
   5)   Wallpaper crafts. Ask for castoff sample books at wallpaper stores for an endless supply of high-quality craft paper. Make outfits for hand-drawn paper dolls, glue to cardboard to make picture frames, cover cans for pencil holders, and make book and binder covers.
Wallpaper-covered binder.
   6)   Pressed flowers. Ten days of pressing between paper layers yields spectacular patterns from common flowers and foliage. Even early December in my Chicago-area climate, I was still finding usable leaves and ferns to press. Use boards and layers of cardboard and paper. Screws tighten the layers through the week. Or, sandwich flowers between paper layers and tuck them in a telephone book or dictionary. Use plenty of weight. Use flower pressings for simple gift tags and cards. Glue on flowers, then add a layer of glue or “Mod Podge” on top to seal the design.
Gift tags out of hand-pressed foliage,
even in December.
Pressed flower card.

Handmade gifts are often best! Leave a comment with your own crafting ideas for Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jesse Trees Help Define Advent

Making these Jesse Tree Ornaments with friends set me up
for decades of future Advent seasons.
Photo by Marianna Bartholomew

At an Opus Dei woman’s night of reflection at a parish west of Chicago, the priest took a good, long time counseling each penitent. The line stretched along the back of the church and out into the narthex. One woman toward the end was around 30 years old and tall, with abundant, curly dark hair. Her face was calm, but something about the way she stood had me whispering to her, asking if everything was ok. That’s how I found out she had just had back surgery and been released from the hospital. Her first time out, she had headed to Confession.

My husband and dog Maestro by the Jesse Tree.
The ornament top right symbolizes Creation.
Honestly? At the time, all I could think was that my first destination after being cooped up from surgery probably would not be a Confessional line.

The woman admitted she was in pain, and finally went to lie down on a long bench against the wall. I called her over when her time for Confession came.

Several days later, a friend from a town nearly half an hour away told me about a new lady from church who was moving with her husband from an apartment into a little home. The woman had several children, and was in back pain from a recent surgery. My friend and the lady were going to start a special Jesse Tree project. I had heard of Jesse Trees, but wondered why these two were thinking of Christmas, months out of season.

I asked if I could crash their plans and arrived at the first gathering with my three children in tow. Sure enough, our hostess was the lady I had met in the Confession line. Again she was smiling – and in back pain. Our little ones rambled around the basement playing with a dollhouse and Legos while the three moms cut out pink and purple circles – the colors of Advent. We used fabric paints to depict scenes and write verses from Scripture:  For the First Friday of Advent we illustrated Isaac and the Ram, Genesis 22: 1-14. For the second Tuesday, we drew tablets with Roman Numerals for Moses and the Law, Exodus 20:1-17. I loved creating a little felt mission church for the story of Nehemiah the Builder and had to laugh when my camel resembled a dinosaur for the story of Abraham.

It was a new experience, making these Jesse Tree ornaments, which numbered 29: 28 days for Advent, and one for Christmas Day. We averaged just several ornaments each meeting, so this project gave our children many play dates rotating through three homes. Our sessions stretched through the Summer and into the Fall. Our hostess made her set as a gift -- I believe, for a couple of newlyweds. Out of simple felt and fabric paint, an amazing heirloom-type gift.

Jesse Tree patterns are easily found for free online and anyone can have fun with this project. Our ornaments are about the diameter of a bagel, but I’ve seen some as small as a quarter. People make them out of every material imaginable: wood, cardboard, construction paper and felt, using markers, crayons or paint. The ornaments hang on Christmas trees, over mantelpieces, on yarn strung around doorways, or from branches stuck into a vase. 

And the point of the Jesse Tree? Isaaiah chapter 11, versus 1-2 says:
"But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD."

That image, of the ancestral tree of Jesus that shows his noble birth, has been shown in stained glass windows and in paintings, since ancient times.

In the 1100s, a monk named Hervaeus wrote, "The patriarch Jesse belonged to the royal family, that is why the root of Jesse signifies the lineage of kings. As to the rod, it symbolises Mary as the flower symbolises Jesus Christ.”

Lighting a candle after dinner, gathering the family to sing O Come Emmanuel, reading Scripture verses of the day and hanging the corresponding Jesse Tree ornament, is now a beautiful Advent tradition in our home. We hang the ornaments on our tree until Christmas Eve. We attend Mass, then exchange Jesse Tree ornaments for Christmas ornaments, while we enjoy eggnog and cookies.

We’ve done this for the past eight years or so, and I always think back to that first encounter of the woman who gave us the gift of the Jesse Tree. She first gave a strong testimony to me by simply bearing her pain and being patient in a Confessional line. 

After welcoming me, a stranger, into her home, she became a good friend. Our little Jesse Tree gatherings became a Bible Study group. Our children were friends for years.

Two years ago, at the start of Advent, she continued her testimony. I received an email from Katherine, that she had sent to people who had either made ornaments with her or received those ornaments: that email went to 18 recipients, all people touched by her little Jesse Tree ministry. She wrote:

“I remember fondly praying, studying, and crafting with you, in our old apartment, at your house, or in our basement of this house.  So many years, with great glue shared around many a newspaper covered table!”

She reminded us to take out our Jesse Trees, writing, “I hope your family life is drawn closer to the heart of God due to the love of Jesus, and growing through His Word through this simple devotion.  None of us gets it perfectly.  We just do as many days as we each can.  The goal is to pray with our family, and to spend time together.”

Then she went on to describe other Advent traditions in her family. This lady was chasing around one-year-old twins, caring for a daughter with heart defects that needed massive surgeries, had children ranging up to the teens, and I believe it was right around that time that repeated floods had destroyed her basement. Yet she took time to encourage 18 other people in their Advent journeys.

Katherine’s a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, a great Catholic College, but it’s hidden in her home, surrounded by little ones, laundry and household duties, that she continues to be a powerful lay missionary, giving a testimony that enriches lives.

In her own words:

“Jesus being in our lives as the focus and center is key for every job we have to do.”

May your Advent be blessed.

Photos by Marianna Bartholomew

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Thanks In All Circumstances

Photo by Bartholomew
I'm still savoring earth tones as these final autumn days slip by. I refuse to hurtle too swiftly into Christmas themes when Advent hasn't even begun. I remember in grade school, Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons were distinct. I loved making pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses and reenacting the first Thanksgiving dinner. Is that too politically incorrect to happen today? We would make construction paper cards for our parents and draw up gratitude lists. Counting our blessings is never out of season, but seems especially natural as Thanksgiving approaches. A reader just sent me this comment on my post Fifty-nine Things Mom and Dad Did Right
Honoring my parents made for
a great post! Thanks, Mom &

Thank you for demonstrating obedience to God's command to 'Give Thanks in All Circumstances'. I think it is impossible to think of the things we are thankful for, and at the very same moment be discontent. So, to be content, be thankful!
I would like to say what I am thankful to my parents for: My father and mother would have heated arguments (behind closed doors but the sound would give them away). BUT, my father would always apologize and offer the first step to reconciliation to my mother in front of us. It was a first hand example and he took a risk to do so....she could have rejected it. For my mother, she was not perfect, of course, but offered so many phrases to live by that have become part of my being: "If at first you don't succeed...try, try again". "Do your best, that is all you can do". 
Thank you Marianna for the essay and encouragement to give thanks!"
Thank you, Dear Reader, for your parents and such a great reflection! I posted that original story just a year ago at Thanksgiving time, and I asked others to share what their parents did right. So I'll extend that invitation again. If you would like to honor your parents in a special way, go to my story and leave a comment, telling us how your parents have blessed you through life:  "Fifty-Nine Things" By the way, this story is my second most popular post of all time! So, many Thanksgiving blessings, from my house to yours. I'll close with a poem many consider to be the finest in the English language. My husband shared it with me in an email a few weeks ago. Now that's technology use at its best! :)

To Autumn
by John Keats

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thous watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, --
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
Miniature of John Keats by
Joesph Severn, 1819

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pray for those still in darkness and cold

To those suffering effects of Hurricane Sandy, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you. See this New York Times update of recovery efforts: Update. 

And a "Quest for Normalcy" story at CNN.

Here is a time-lapse video of New York City in the midst of Sandy:

New Yorkers "are facing desperate situations as they rebuild their lives...please pray for all who are suffering from this tragedy and for all who are working on the relief efforts."
Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York

Sunday, October 14, 2012

North American Martyrs, Heal Our Nation

Joan of Arc helped liberate Orleans, France in
the 1400s. This city nurtured North American
martyr Saint Isaac Jogues in the 17th century.
Image from Catholic Forum.
Imagine growing up in Orléans of Saint Joan of Arc fame, in the 1600s. Recovered from the Hundred Years’ War, this north-central French city on the Loire River, has the amazing Gothic Cathedrale Saint-Croix d’Orleans, or Cathedral of the Holy Cross, a thriving university dating back to the 1230’s, and is a transportation center, filled with culture and commerce.
Next, imagine you receive a fine education and are ordained a Jesuit priest. You can fit right in with intellectuals and rulers of Orléans. But you feel called to remote forests, to serve people who have never seen a modern city, don’t speak your language and are fierce warriors.

This is Saint Isaac Jogues’ story and it has given me chills since childhood. His superiors sent this native of Orléans to serve allies of the French, the Hurons and Algonquins, in North America, in territory called “New France.” In a canoe en route, several Christian companions and he were captured by Mohawk Iroquoise. Father Isaac Jogues could have easily died from blood loss or gangrene after his captors tortured him and chopped off several fingers. He survived and became a slave of the Mohawks, seeking every chance to teach the tribal people about Jesus and God’s mercy. When Dutch merchants learned of his plight, they smuggled him off to present-day Manhattan.
Miraculously, he sailed back to France, where people greeted him as a "living martyr." He was even given special permission by Pope Urban VIII to celebrate Mass with his mutilated hand, since the Eucharist is only supposed to be held by the thumb and forefinger.
Orleans, France. 1895 Image is in public domain.
He had certainly earned safety in some quiet assignment. But after just a few months of recovery, Father Isaac Jogues headed back to North America.
A shaky peace was forged between the Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin and the French, and in 1645, Father Isaac Jogues and lay helper Jean de Lalande went into Mohawk country to act as ambassadors. But illness and crop failure had hit the Mohawks. Europeans immigrating into the New World, especially children, were helping to spread smallpox. But Indians feared the missionaries were magicians who were casting spells on their tribes.
The missionaries preached peace, but when they were captured by a hostile group of Mohawks, they were taken to their village of Ossernenon, now Auriesville, New York. The Turtle and Wolf Clans of the Mohawks argued for the priest’s lives and wanted to free them. But members of the fierce Bear Clan, ambushed the men from behind, using tomahawks to behead them.
Photo of mosaic in Cathedral Basilica 
of St. Louis taken by Mark Scott Abeln.
For my Catholic Vitamins podcast "J-for Jubilee," I told how my family drove along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, past Quebec City to the spectacular shrine of St. Anne de B’eaupre. We didn’t realize at the time that when Father Isaac Jogues was martyred by the Mohawks, his body was thrown into the St. Lawrence River.
Just about ten years after this martyrdom, an Indian maiden was born near Ossernenon. Kateri Tekakwitha was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Catholic Algonquin woman, and it is thought she belonged to the Turtle Clan who had argued to save Father Jogues and Lalande. 

Kateri lost her brother and parents to smallpox, that also left her with impaired vision and facial scars. She was quiet, avoided social gatherings, and covered her head with a blanket to spare others the sight of her scars. She was mocked and cast off by her tribe because she took a vow of virginity, consecrating herself to God. When she died at the age of 24, eyewitnesses saw her smallpox scars fade and her face bloom into beauty.
“The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Tertullian penned these words around the 2nd-3rd century after Christ. It seems that the sacrifice of Saints Isaac Jogues and Jean de Lalande watered the soil that nurtured Kateri, known now as the Lily of the Mohawks. 

In the United States, we celebrate the Feast of the North American Martyrs, also known as St. Isaac Jogues and Companions, on October 19. And on October 21st this year, Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to canonize Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
It seems something really significant, some powerful force for good, will be unleashed with this event. And the Native American community? It has waited for this canonization day for centuries.
A depiction of Jean de Brébeuf's and Gabriel Lalemant's martyrdom marks
a map of 1657 drawn by Bressani. Image is in public domain.
I started my Missionary Moment for the Catholic Vitamins "M for Mercy" podcast this week by playing the Huron Carol on recorder. The Carol was written in 1643 by Father Jean de Brebeuf, another North American Martyr. He wrote the words to the Carol in the language of the native Huron/Wendat people and based the tune on a traditional French folk song. He overcame tuberculosis to come serve the Hurons near Lake Huron, and many of the Indians came to love him and follow his faith. When he was later captured and tortured by Iroquois, the warriors consumed his heart because they hoped to gain his courage. He was a massive, powerful man with a gentle way, and people said he did not cry out in pain even once at the end.
Not everyone has the courage of Saints Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf or the other North American martyrs. But we do have the actual saints rooting for us. Their interest in saving souls didn’t end when they reached heaven.
This 17th-century painting
by Father Claude Chauchetiére is one
of the oldest portraits of Kateri
Tekakwitha. Image is in public
Maybe this October, as we put out our pumpkins, we can call on all the saints and remember that Halloween is really All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Saints’ Day, honoring all saints in heaven, known and unknown.
You might plan a trip to the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs, in Auriesville, New York. Or visit the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine outside of Fonda, New York, also the site of the only fully excavated Iroquois village in the country. My husband and I took our children to the rustic chapel and museum in a 200-year-old barn near Fonda some years ago, and it was an awesome experience to pray and learn more about our North American saints. 
With the saints on our side, any first timid steps into holiness will grow bolder with practice. Even if we’re in a situation or time in our life when we’re especially hidden or lonely – we can be assured we’re not alone in living our faith. Holiness spreads. It bridges heaven and earth -- and practiced on a large scale, will renew a nation.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Anniversary Blessings and All That Jazz

A bit grainy, taken off our cell phone, but proof of a
great "date night!"

My husband and I lived in different parts of Chicago the four years we dated. My little efficiency apartments featured a cast iron "Murphy bed" that threatened to squash me every time I lowered it from its closet, views of brick walls across alleys, cantankerous scraping of elevator cables sounding through the night and, yes, jumbo-sized cockroaches.
From the official Murphy Bed Co.
website. Folding away my cast iron
bed each morning was a feat of
strength and willpower!

On the upside, these cubbyholes granted me access to St. Clement's Church and singing in its choir, Lincoln Park brownstones, lakefront strolls, forays to the zoo and conservatory, cheap diners, classic movies at the Music Box Theater, coffee house sessions at the Old Town School of Folk Music

Ed and I were in our early 20's, had student loan payments, and were working for non-profits, but we didn't need much cash to have fun. He would hop a bus to meet me and we would walk and talk for hours -- rain, snow or shine. Some of the world's best sight-seeing was at our disposal, and we never carried a scrap of extra weight during those years! celebrate our 23rd Anniversary Saturday night, Ed took me to Girl and the Goat in Chicago's West Loop area (owned and run by Iron Chef America contender Stephanie Izard). Chickpea fritters; pork, beef and goat stew with homemade noodles; fresh-baked bread with bacon, butter, and diced pear. Outstanding and surprising  dishes! Dim, artsy interior with rustic tables and floor, wood-fed brick oven, chefs in tall, cylindrical hats, and a soaring bar area with iron grill work salvaged from some architectural treasure house.
Chicago's Field Museum, just a bus ride away when we
lived in the city. Photo by Bartholomew

After a week of our family fighting a respiratory bug, it was so delightful and unexpected to escape for the evening. After-dinner espresso and latte at La Colombe Coffeehouse on Randolph Street, then on to the Jazz Showcase to hear Benny Green and his trio. We sipped Bailey's Irish Cream in front row seats, positioned perfectly to see the pianist's flying hands. 

After the first set, Benny autographed a CD for us: "Marianna and Ed, Happy 23 Years! Many, many more and on and on..." When he saw us still there after the second set, he greeted us by name. He was upset, saying if he had known we stayed, he would have dedicated a song to us. He leapt back on the stage, grabbed the mike, but by then the lights were up and house music playing. The thought was there!

Funny how jazz has been a recurring theme in my life this year. I wrote about another powerful jazz encounter here: Monsignor Reilly, Great Jazz and an Amazing Week.

But back to Jazz Showcase. We watched the pianist (Benny Green), bassist (Ben Wolfe) and drummer (Kenny Washington) in awe as they moved in and out of improvisation seamlessly. Distinct voices, yet one stunningly unified team. Sounds like a metaphor for marriage at its best, although I didn't think of that at the time. During intermission, Benny told Ed and I that when he composed, he expressed things in music he couldn't put into words. I told him his music and performance reminded me of prayer. It seemed so fundamental, spiritual and free. He seemed touched when we said we couldn't think of a nicer way to spend our anniversary. He looks so edgy on his CD cover, but in person, seemed gentle and receptive, thanked us for our encouragement, and said "bless you," several times, for our comments.

In Father Robert Barron's youtube video about Seven Great Qualities of a New Evangelist, he talks about how we must be plugged into culture, and find God's truths and beauty shining forth through even the secular arts. I definitely felt God's goodness pouring through this trio's music. At times, the sounds were so delicate and probing, they seemed to express qualities like love, loneliness and pondering. At other times, these three men in suits rocked with exuberance, laying all their energies into themes they explored with deepening intensity.
Before we married, Ed read Jane Eyre to
please me. Pictured here is author
Charlote Bronte, painted by
J.H. Thompson. Image is in public
domain due to age.

Learning to appreciate jazz has been a labor of love. When I first met my husband, I thought jazz ran in circles with nowhere to go. But living 23 years with a trumpet player has led me to lay down prejudices. I've been blessed by an enjoyment of jazz that might never have developed if I hadn't determined to like it for Ed's sake.

The great thing, is that my husband also gives my preferences a try, which led him to read my favorite book of all time before we married (Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre), buy a second-hand canoe this summer, and take me to such an out of the box restaurant featuring goat cheese and locally-grown veggies for our anniversary!

That great meal and music was soporific, because next morning, the whole family stayed in bed until noon -- an unheard-of luxury. We arose to Ed and my actual anniversary day, which mimicked the glorious, sunshiny weather of our wedding day. I remember my parents driving me and my boxed wedding dress and veil along Lake Shore Drive toward St. Clement's Church, Lake Michigan glistening at our side and sun smiling overhead -- and us belting out the show tune from "My Fair Lady" -- "I'm getting married in the morning. Ding-dong the bells are going to chime..."

We had relatives fly in from as far away as Ireland and England. We never guessed that within a week, Ed's father would be stricken by a brain embolism. How blessed we were to have both sets of our parents at the wedding.

The now-Bishop of Tulsa (then, President of the Catholic Church Extension Society) Father Edward Slattery, sang the "Creation Mass," and our St. Clement's Church Choir sang, finishing with part of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. After Ed and I were named husband and wife we turned to face the congregation, and the 30-some members of the choir waved to us from the loft of the newly-refurbished, historic, Romanesque-style church! Ahhh, memories.

Memories filtered pleasantly through my brain all weekend, as our leisurely celebration of life together extended through Sunday. We had two coupons for a nearby coffeehouse, so walked there in the afternoon to exchange gifts. I bet we looked silly walking down the street, each carrying a large, brown shopping bag. Ed got me an ingenious bird feeder that attaches to the kitchen window so we can watch birds while doing dishes. I got him a quintet's worth of Canadian Brass sheet music so he can play with the kids on their trombone, trumpet and clarinet, along with a Canadian Brass CD. Also, Handel's Messiah sheet music and CD so he can play along on his trumpet. I love how our gifts benefit the whole family.

Later, at 5:00 PM Mass, our family was asked to bring up the gifts. The entire theme of the Mass happened to revolve around the one-flesh, sacramental union of husband and wife. A great Indian priest gave a homily full of scriptural references and rich insights as to God's plan for marriage. In one of the lighter moments, he told of an English couple who held a world record for being married for eighty-something years! The wife advised forgiving each other and always going to bed good friends. The husband summed up his approach in two words: "Yes, Dear!"
The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, painted by acclaimed,
19th-century Filipino master Juan Luna. Image is in public
domain, due to age.

After dinner, I read this article from Soul Magazine to Ed and the kids, to remind us about what an amazing anniversary date Ed and I have. October 7th is the Feast of the Holy Rosary. On this day in 1571, the last oared, naval battle in history took place. An outnumbered, ragtag fleet of Christians turned back a powerful invading force of Turks threatening to overrun Europe. (The Muslim fleet was powered by Christian slaves at the oars.) The Christian victory is credited to the fact that Europe united in praying the rosary, since defeat seemed certain. You have to read the story of this incredible battle. The prolific writer G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem about the event, called LepantoThe language and imagery are breathtaking. 

Well, for Ed and I it's been twenty-three years (not counting the four we dated) -- six pregnancies (three miscarriages), various catastrophes (job loss, illness, disputes) -- but above all, shared faith, sacramental blessings, companionship, family, and the sense of adventure as new opportunities unfold.
Looking out to a bright future,
with Edward J. Slattery, now
Bishop of Tulsa, OK.

Has it all played out as I envisioned as a 16-year-old? Hardly. In many ways it has surpassed my hopes and dreams. It's a lot like jazz. We improvise as we go, helping the other each sound his or her own unique tune, yet begging God to blend us in pleasing harmony, forging something beautiful in our hearts, home and the world.