Tag Archives: Catholic

Who was ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ anyway?

October 23, 2014

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That Great Heart-coverBy Bob Zyskowski

In St. Paul, the name “O’Shaughnessy” graces a handful of buildings at the University of St. Thomas, including the library, education center and football stadium, and at St. Catherine University there is the architectural masterpiece of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

Who this O’Shaughnessy was and how he came about the financial means to support Catholic higher education — plus an amazing variety and staggering volume of charities and individuals — is told in an enlightening new book, “That Great Heart: The Story of I.A. O’Shaughnessy.”

It’s a rags-to-riches tale: Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater bootmaker, graduates from the then College of St. Thomas, becomes the largest independent oil refiner in the United States, makes millions and gives millions away.

Where he started, how he grew his businesses, how and to whom he donates — and especially what motivates him — gives readers an insight into the man behind the buildings.

It makes for good-paced reading, thanks to the journalist’s writing style of author Doug Hennes.

Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas and a former reporter and editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, never met O’Shaughnessy.

He was a freshman at St. Thomas in the fall of 1973; O’Shaughnessy died at 88 in November that year. The oilman’s funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and a memorial Mass was held on campus.

“I remember looking out a window from one of the buildings at St. Thomas at what seemed to be an endless procession of black limousines,” Hennes said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the guy.”

Decades later Hennes wrote about O’Shaughnessy for the
St. Thomas magazine and helped with a video about him. That sparked an interest in Hennes to learn more about I.A.

Boxloads of letters

At the Minnesota History Center he discovered 14 boxes of O’Shaughnessy’s correspondence and newspaper clippings, all in files organized alphabetically.

The material painted a picture of the man who is likely known to few who enter the buildings that bear his name.

“Some material even surprised family members,” Hennes said.

IA-St. Thomas football portraitThose surprises include facts such as:

— O’Shaughnessy played on the first St. John’s football team that beat rival St. Thomas, was dismissed for drinking beer (at age 16), went to St. Thomas and became a star for the Tommies.

— As part of a marketing effort, his Globe Oil Company sponsored a basketball team, and players on the Globe Refiners made the bulk of the U.S. squad that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

— For a short time he was a part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

— He was offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Australia but turned it down.

How O’Shaughnessy made his millions is interesting: He borrowed money to finance drilling and refining projects and either paid back investors or bought them out when the projects succeeded.

He played a major role in the development of the oil industry in the Oklahoma and Kansas area, risking building a refinery at the height of the Great Depression.

He eventually used a vertical marketing strategy to not only drill for oil but to refine it for multiple uses — gasoline, kerosene, burning oils, turpentine and lubricating oils and greases — and to distribute it under the Globe trademark to 600 independent dealers in 12 states in the middle of the country and into Canada.Globe Oil truck

“He was pretty sharp,” Hennes said. “He had a shrewd business sense — he had an instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t. And he hired really good people to run the operations.”

O’Shaughnessy was an early adopter of new technologies and methods, and also understood the need to keep employees happy. After starting to give Christmas bonuses, he felt compelled to continue the practice even in years when the company lost money.

Generous beyond measure

Still, it is O’Shaughnessy’s charitable contributions that are the real story behind the man.

“He gave to everything,” Hennes told The Catholic Spirit. The files contain letter after letter of requests for loans and donations, he said. If he decided he would give, he’d write yes and an amount right on the bottom of the letter and write the check right away. Many are for $100 here, $200 there.

“If he was saying no,” Hennes said, “there would be a letter, because he’d always say why.”

 

IA-St. Thomas library mortar work

Outside the O'Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

Outside the O’Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

While O’Shaughnessy donated millions for buildings at the University of Notre Dame as well as St. Kate and St. Thomas, he often donated only if organizations  raised a matching sum.

“He really saw himself as trying to leverage other gifts,” Hennes said. “He was willing to give, but he wanted to get other people involved, too.”

His faith and his understanding of stewardship both come into play in giving.

Hennes quoted him, “The Lord has been good to me, so I figure I might as well spread some of my money around where it will do some good.”

There’s much more, including O’Shaughnessy’s part in the war effort during World War II, his commitment to his parish —
St. Mark in St. Paul — and the meeting with Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh that led to O’Shaughnessy financing one of the pope’s dreams, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

I.A. O’Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

About the book

“That Great Heart” by Doug Hennes, Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, Minn., 2014; 259 pages.

Events

Doug Hennes (2014)A book launch will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on St. Thomas’ campus in St. Paul. The event will include a reading, reception and book signing by author Doug Hennes.

Other “That Great Heart” signings include:

— Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, bookstore, Terrence Murphy Hall, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

— 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, Anderson Student Center, St. Thomas’
St. Paul campus.

— Sunday, Nov. 9, after 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses, St. Mark’s Church, 1976 Dayton Ave., St. Paul.

— Saturday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., St. Patrick’s Guild, 1554 Randolph Ave.,
St. Paul.

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Asked to speak at a funeral?

October 13, 2014

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Her9780879465322Ae’s a valuable little booklet to have on hand should you or someone you know be asked to speak about a friend or loved one at a funeral.

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” won’t take you more than 15-20 minutes to breeze through the 36 pages, and the final third are sample talks, so author Michael A. Cymbala makes his points concisely.

Those points are clear. The first is that your remarks should reflect the sacredness of the Christian message, and anyone who has been present when an inappropriate comment or anecdote has been told at a funeral can attest to what crosses the line. Cymbala gives the example of a young man who, while speaking about his father, “opened a beer can to demonstrate his departed father’s ‘favorite sound.’ ”

A veteran Catholic music director, Cymbala helpfully notes that dioceses and parishes differ about when a remembrance of the deceased may be delivered, so finding out the local rules and the order of the service is important. Even more important is the content of the remembrance and knowing that it isn’t to be a eulogy. There is never to be a eulogy at the funeral Mass, he writes, pointing out that the rubric for the funeral rite allows for someone to speak “in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation.”

While a eulogy is a tribute or high praise, a remembrance at a Catholic funeral is to “support the celebration’s focus on the Christian message.”

While you want to mention the background, accomplishments, family life and other aspects of the deceased’s life, “try placing these stories within the context of the faith life, generosity, spirituality and good-heartedness of the deceased. Offer thanks and praise to God for blessing the departed with the gift of life an those who know and loved him or her.” He adds: “The moment calls for words that link the person to the good things God provides to all of us.”

The three sample talks offer great ways to work faith and spirituality into a remembrance. You’ll find them touching even though you don’t know those about whom they were written.

And a final point: “The words you fashion and offer will serve to console a hurting world and honor a beloved friend. Those same words may well be remembered and referenced for many days to come.”

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” is available for $4.95 through the publisher at http://www.actapublications.com.

 

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Voyaguer life comes alive for young readers

October 3, 2014

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20458471“Waters Like the Sky” is a quick-paced little piece of historical fiction that goes into amazing detail what life was like on the lakes and rivers of North America for the adventurous Frenchmen who sought to make their living in the fur trade.

It’s an interesting tale that the mother-daughter writing team of Nikki and the late Agnes Rajala has crafted. Aimed at an audience anywhere from middle school to early high school, it could be a good teaching tool for those trying to help young people grasp the history of the area in and around the Great Lakes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

With the consequences of the French Revolution as background, the story about a boy named Andre takes readers from French-speaking Canada onto the canoes of the voyaguers and into their lifestyle and traditions. What’s obvious is the painstaking research that went into the writing; the level of detail is tremendous.

How to paddle — “Do not dig! Never dig! Dip, pull and swing. And sing” — the trials of portaging, and the medicinal value of local plants are just a few of the bits of voyaguer life that are packed into the story.

The North Star Press book makes for a literary learning experience, and a religious one, too. Andre’s tasks as clerk of the voyaguer team offer a lesson, showing the value of education even in the wilderness. He prays, too, both prayers of petition and prayers of thanksgiving, and a Catholic priest plays a small but pivotal role in the drama.

For those working on the history of Minnesota, as the state requires for sixth graders, reading “Waters Like the Sky” will be a fun way to learn.

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Connecting St. Francis with Pope Francis

September 25, 2014

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When Saint Francis saved the ChurchTake a refresher course in what it means to be Catholic.

Read John M. Sweeney’s new book, “When Saint Francis Saved the Church.”

Sweeney packs reminders about what faith, saintliness and the life of a Christian are all about into just 156 pages of this small Ave Maria Press book (not counting acknowledgements and notes). There are highlighter-worthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs galore, great food for thought and a bounty for discussion.

Sweeney’s hook, of course, is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and the newest Francis on the Catholic scene, Pope Francis.

Throughout he links the revolution that St. Francis started to the hope that many in the Church today, what — entertain? predict? — with the pope who chose to be the first to adapt Francis is his papal name.

Sweeney writes about Francis of Assisi, “His spiritual vision from eight centuries ago is already familiar to anyone paying attention to Pope Francis and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today.” And he adds:

“Many of us are watching carefully, and participating willingly, as that edifice softens into something less predictable, more godly. If something monumental happened 800 years ago to revive the Church, then it can happen again today; and the spirit that animated the earlier conversion may be quite similar to the spirit at work in the Church today. Much depends on what we ourselves will do.”

In sharing the historical background and development of Franciscan spirituality, the book points out dozens of interesting details of Francis’ thinking, including:

  • Faith is not something done only inside the walls of the church. Instead, “Faith today is readily seen as concerned with many things other than what you believe — it includes hope, passion, family, love, story, virtue, commitment, and identity, all of which may seem more important than matters of creed.”
  • St. Francis was relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements. “When he states his beliefs in his writings it is most often regarding how one is supposed to behave toward others and the created world, not a matter of pure doctrine.”
  • The Gospel is not something to believe as much as it is a vocation to a changed life.
  • For Francis  there were no “others.” He responded to each person he met as if he were already a friend, developing a simple kindness, openness, neighborliness and looking out for their needs, an approach that is part and parcel of gospel living.
  • Francis befriended without judging, noticed and responded to people’s needs and expressed love for them simply because that person had been created by a God who says that every created thing is good.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought of his time, he didn’t see the world as evil but instead embraced it.

Not a dissenter, a nonconformist

Sweeney writes that Francis of Assisi “rebranded” the idea of sanctity. He was never a disobedient son of the Church, although he was as nonconformist who had his own priorities.

He advocated for humble dress, fasting as part of one’s regular diet, grace before meals, nonviolence, hospitality and prayer. Sweeney notes:

“He placed such a priority on personal prayer, contemplation, charity and loving-kindness because the habits of the heart are important to God, as well as to the faithful who want to know God better.”

And all these things we not just for the friars of his community but for ordinary believers. That was revolutionary during Francis’ era, when the Church felt threatened by individual expressions of faith and priests were taught that they were the primary mediators between God and their parishioners. Along with forming the Order of Friars Minor that we know as Franciscans, Francis wrote a Rule for laity — Third Order Franciscans — that included many of the principles of his Rule for the friars, plus gathering together as community, aiding the sick and caring for those who die. These practices all became to be known as spiritual acts.

Francis lived during the height of the Gothic era, when it was believed that religious people should turn away from the coarseness of the world and lift eyes and minds upward, toward the rising height of steeples and images of angels and saints, the world to come. Francis found beauty in the ordinary things of the world.

Sweeney connects St. Francis with Pope Francis in the way that both seems to be advocates of a Church that is at times unpredictable, threatening to some, a Church listening to the Spirit. Francis the pope “meets people face-to-face as equals. He touches people who might seem untouchable. He loves to laugh. He is not afraid of change.” Pope Francis, Sweeney posits, “has begun to return the Church to a Franciscan understanding of friendship, relating to the other, poverty, spirituality, care and death,” and is “leading the Church toward greater humility; revaluing poverty, especial by his own example; and preaching as a last resort to explain the values that he wants to uphold as most important for Catholics and for all people.”

Pope Francis, in Sweeney’s mind, “is calling us to recreate God’s Church to better foster the art of true gospel living.” And he writes:

“Who knows what the next few years will bring. As a Catholic who is interested in the positive role the Catholic Church can play in sanctifying the world, I’m anxious to be part of the vision that Francis realized long ago and conscious that we live in a world ready for our making today.”

 

 

 

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Where you send your “ice bucket challenge” donation DOES make a difference

August 30, 2014

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If you’ve already gotten in on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or are planning to, congratulations on your generosity of spirit.

Before you donate, consider the concerns being expressed that the ALS Foundation supports research that uses fetal embryonic tissue from abortions.

Father John Floeder, who teaches bioethics at the St. Paul Seminary and who chairs the Archbishop’s Commission on Bio/Medical Ethics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, offered the following statement to help people gain a better understanding of the moral and ethical issues involved:

Many human sufferings call out to us for help, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) is certainly among them.  Jesus Christ and the demands of love must lead us, as Catholics, to give our time, energy, and resources to those who suffer.  The awareness and contributions that have been raised because of the “bucket challenge” are a testament to that love in so many.  That said, authentic Christ-like love never can accept the deliberate taking of one life for the sake of another, which the use of embryonic stem cells does.  To really help the suffering of ALS in a loving way, Catholics should not only support only those organizations that do not use embryonic stem cells, but also express to organizations the need to cease support and funding of practices that use embryonic stem cells that destroys human life.

The U.S. Catholic Conference suggests donating to ALS research at several alternative organizations, including the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research. To donate, use the button for “Donate Now” on the institute’s main web page.

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Catholic grandparents: Pass on the baton of faith

August 12, 2014

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“Preserving Your Family: Parents and grandparents working together,” by Dick Bergeson. Self-published. 89 pp. $9.95.

bookimageFormer Minnesotan Dick Bergeson has published a little paperback of advice that he hopes will motivate parents and grandparents to get to work passing on the faith.

Bergeson, long-active in the Catholic charismatic movement and now a grandfather and great-grandfather, shares Scripture-based ideas intended to help reverse what he terms “the exodus from our faith” by younger generations.

He echoes the urging of St. Pope John Paul II for Christian communities to become “schools of prayer,” noting that extended families need to provide both teaching about the faith and the supportive culture that has virtually disappeared from today’s world.

While much of the advice is aimed both at parents and grandparents, Bergeson writes, “It is important for grandparents to be conscious of the extraordinry position they hold in their families.”

The older generations hold a critical role in the faith formation of the whole family not the least of which is because “they have gone through may crises in life and know how invaluable a deep faith in Jesus is,” he notes. “They have seen God act in their lives and in the problems they have faced.”

Praying for family members is primary, along with practicing and teaching a variety of prayer forms, continuing to learn about the faith one’s self, providing a sense of propriety amid shifting cultural trends and living a life of integrity.

Bergeson sees grandparental involvement as handing off the baton of faith to the next generation.

“Grandparents have always provided the spiritual backbone of the family,” he notes. “Grandparents have live through life and have experienced losses, failures, struggles, deaths and have been able to see how God has acted and been there through each one of these crises of life.

He adds, “If they don’t step in, another generation will be lost.”

Bergeson urges mothers, father and grandparents to be a blessing to children and grandchildren.

“This means we need to give them words of encouragement and loving direction,” he says. “We need to remind them of who they are as persons. . . . The most important thing we can do for our children is to make sure they know they are loved and appreciated in our families.”

The overriding goal for all should be to “lay the groundwork for our offspring to get to heaven,” he says. “This is the only thing that matters in life and should affect all of our actions.”

The book is available at http://www.preservingyourfamily.com.

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The Pope’s Top 10!

July 29, 2014

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Finally – a “Top Ten” I can really use!

David Letterman of the Late Show often used a fake and funny top ten list to get a good laugh but Pope Francis’ Top Ten should be printed out and placed on everyone’s refrigerator.

In an interview published in part in the Argentine weekly “Viva” July 27, the pope listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one’s life. Although listed one to ten in the Catholic Register, I am going to list them David Letterman style with my own commentary going  from number ten  to number one!

The number one tip for bringing joy into your life is....

The number one tip for bringing joy into your life is….

 

10. Work for peace. I am reminded that this doesn’t just go for peace in the Middle East, but for peace in my home, parish, community and work place.  Pray and work for world peace but demonstrate it at home.

 

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs. I love my Catholic faith and occasionally my friends and family get sick of me harping on the “Catholic ” teaching of things.  I have an obligation to live and teach my faith but I want others to recognize the beauty of the faith in me. If I am not living and radiating  joy – who would want to be Catholic like me. It may be an odd comparison but,  I think of a great line in the movie When Harry Met Sally –  in the restaurant scene the neighboring customer leans over to the waitress and says “I’ll have what she’s having.”  I want people to see me and say, “I’ll have what she’s having!”

 

8. Stop being negative. Oh, this one is so hard for me because misery loves company! I find the best way to get rid of the crabbiness is to talk to a trusted friend (or in my case my spouse) and get it out.  We have a saying in our house that we used when our kids were little. We say, “Over, done with, gone!”

 

7. Respect and take care of nature. This seemed easier when my children were little.  They would bring me a rock or (heaven forbid) lizard and marvel at how beautiful it was.  I remember one time when driving to visit my mother when my children were in the back seat.  My son pointed and yelled to look out the window at a rainbow and said, “Mom, look what God made for us!” Out of the mouths of babes…

 

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. I found this an interesting thing to be on the Pope’s list.  I have , however always loved being with and working with young people.  The whole world is ahead of them and a little encouragement can bring them so far, but I have to say when I spend time with youth it is me who benefits from their enthusiasm.

 

5. Sundays should be holidays. We have sort of lost Sundays in this country.  It becomes yet another day to do chores or in this digital age catch up on work.  My parents used to talk about “Sunday go to visiting day” and we would visit family and friends and build that community that you just cannot get with virtual facebook friends.

 

4. “A healthy sense of leisure. Father Patrick Peyton used to say “The family that prays together stays together.”  While that may be true, I also believe the family that plays together enjoys each others company while they stay together. Have fun!

 

3. “Proceed calmly” in life.  I am sure you have seen the facebook memes that say “Keep calm and XXXX” With the X’s being one of many things.  Maybe facebook is catching on to the Pope! Maybe I’ll make a meme that says ‘Keep calm and listen to the Pope!”

 

 

2. “Be giving of yourself to others. Being stingy of my time or resources only leads me to misery.  The number one way to break out of a depression is to get involved and give to others.  It is like God’s very own Prozac!

 

And the number one way to bring greater Joy to ones life is: (Drum roll please!)

 

1. “Live and let live. When I find myself getting tied up in someone elses drama I need to remember this one.   The Pope said their is a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”  I prefer a Polish saying I saw recently. I even posted near my desk at work. It says, “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje ma?pe”  Translates into “Not my circus, not my monkey.”

 

Thank you Pope Francis, for reminding us once again how to live!

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Nun finds grape vineyard shares both wisdom and wine

July 15, 2014

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9781426773839_p0_v3_s600A bunch of people are not unlike a bunch of grapes.

A vine produces the same variety of grape each season, and, while each grape will be slightly different, all will be basically the same.

“Although each of us is a separate entity,” writes Sister Judith Sutera, “we are all part of the same cluster, dangling from the same vine.

“We grow at different rates; we have different tones and size and sweetness; we drop off at different times. But still, we are part of a bunch. We are nourished by the same things, have the same desires, feel the same emotions, share the same type of body and blood.”

What the Benedictine surmises from this is just one of the lessons she learned from years of working in her monastery’s vineyard: “Perhaps if we were to look at others with this filter rather than the filter of how we are different we could change the world in ways both small and large.”

In “The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual lessons in pruning, waiting, harvesting and abundance,” Sister Judith pairs the work that it takes to dress the vines and produce wine at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kan., with what her book’s subtitle terms “spiritual lessons.” Of course they are spiritual lessons, but even more they’re life lessons, as the author intended, and one doesn’t have to be looking for anything religious to benefit from the wisdom shared. While biblical references to the vine and the branches and the workers in the vineyard come naturally in the text, this book is simply great advice for being a happy, fruitful, fulfilled person.

Starting with sketches she’d made year ago of the steps in the vine dressing process — not tasks for those with little patience or an aversion to hard work, by the way — Sister Judith added explanations, intellectual reflections and infrequently scriptural references, all with the sagacity and spirituality one might expect from someone with degrees in psychology and sociology and master’s degrees in counseling and monastic theology.

The connections she makes are tangible.

Just as she had to learn the craft of vine dressing from a mentor, the then 70-year-old Sister Jeannette Obrist, people are wise to seek the advice from others so that they too can learn and grow.

Just as vines need to be pruned in a balanced way to produce more fruit, people require a balance of criticism and praise to become healthy individuals.

Just as to find the ripest grapes at harvest time one has to look under some leaves, people need to look very hard and frequently change their point of view to find and appreciate life’s many gifts.

There are plenty more like comparisons in this easy reading, 159-page pocket- or purse-friendly Abingdon Press paperback. There are as many lessons in living a fruitful life as there is information about growing grapes. In combination, though, Sister Judith wrote that she hoped her book “will help others to love a plant, love the miracles of life, love themselves and others.”

Illustrations by Paul Soupiset and hand-lettered vine dressing advice just add to the charm.

FURTHER WISDOM FROM THE VINEYARD AND SISTER JUDITH SUTERA, OSB

* (About mentoring) “Even more important than what is learned is making the deep connection with a person who actually cares about you, listens to you and answers your questions.”

* “It’s never too late for a little conversion and forgiveness. We can never know how others got to be the way they are. We can only try to believe that they are doing the best they can with what they have. This is the filter that will enable us to see the glimmer of goodness and purity within them and treat them accordingly.”

* “A healthy life requires a balance of self-expression and discipline. No one benefits from never being denied anything or experiencing the consequences of negative behavior.”

* “You can’t choose where you came from, only where you end up.”

* “Leaving myself open for the next ‘better offer’ means never being fully open to what is right here now.”

* “A little bit of self-control or spiritual discipline will add up in the reserve that prepares me for life’s challenges. Small efforts to be more kind or generous build up until I have a storehouse of patience and love from which I can draw.”

* “Doing the next right thing moves me in the direction of a peaceful life.”

* “We are to be about the harvest and not the foliage.”

* “Good growth takes attention, dedication and time.”

* “Love and responsibility are the trellises that hold us up and move us in the right direction.”

* “We get set in our ways, and to truly change requires tremendous focus and effort. We all know that old negative habits are hard to break. We may not realize an action is becoming a habit until it is so ingrained that it feels as if we cannot live any other way.”

* “Even the slightest effort toward a right choice means that it will be easier next time. As I achieve more happiness from the results of my exercise or practice or prayer, and get into the habit of doing it consistently, I will find it hard to imagine living any other way.”

* “Love and belonging are not for the lazy, the indifferent or the unmotivated. Love is a lot of work, but a work that we take on willingly and even eagerly. It is a motivator surpassing any other, enabling us to be greater and happier than we ever imagined we could be.”

* “We can never be sure of what the harvest will be until it has happened. Sometimes the greatest gifts or the most powerful lessons aren’t the ones we initially thought they would be.”

* “Even when you think you’re doing everything right, things can still go wrong.”

* “The truths and happiness of life will rarely just fall into our laps. . . . Each of us must tend our vines.”

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Turn, Turn, Turn…

July 5, 2014

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flowersTo Everything Turn, Turn, Turn….

Or so goes the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s. The lyrics, except for the title which is repeated throughout the song, and the final verse of the song, are adapted from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
I have come to reflect again on this bit of scripture as I find myself moving from one era of my life to another. As I have grown older and hopefully wiser I have been taking time in my prayer to reflect on these movements in my life and how they really do fit into God’s plan.
A few years ago my children when off to college and thus I started a new era in my life. My mother recently passed away and a good friend has moved away (By coincidence she lives in the same town that Pete Seeger made famous – Beacon New York) . My pastor and spiritual guide has been reassigned to a different parish. I might be ready for a midlife crisis but the seasons of life are not only for empty-nesters – these seasons have been happening all of my life.
As a High school student, I readily anticipated and embraced going off to college and being independent (or so I thought) but even the anticipation left me with fear as I left behind security and family. My 20’s were filled with college, marriage and establishing some sort of career. It was quite hedonistic in it’s way, at least in that it was a time of the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I, but God was still leading me even though I didn’t know it. I learned about love through my marriage to my husband. I may not have known the fulness of God’s love for me yet, but I was learning. By my 30’s the season of raising children entered into my life. I would write more about it but it is a blur of diapers, potty training, sports camps, music lessons and play dates. Yet even during this crazy time of my life, I remember savoring every minute with my little children and never wanting it to change. God has his hand in teaching me about love here too. The sacrificial way in which we love our children, but I had more to learn.
My forties brought me a surprise. My children grew more independent and this season of my life brought me the surprise of God through a conversion experience I was not prepared for. I realized I was a child of God, His beloved and loved! I filled my life with learning and a zeal for evangelization. This season of my life brought me to volunteering for my church, to my work for the Archdiocese and in contact with mentors and friends who have helped me to learn more and grow deaper in my faith. Most of all this season has taught me how to pray.
I have lately realized that God is moving me into another season. A dear friend and spiritual sister has moved with her family to New York and my pastor who brought me to my faith and guided me through much of my spiritual life has been transferred. Like my children leaving the nest, it feels like the end of an era.
Even though my children graduating from High School left me reminiscent for the past, I relish the time with my grown up children and sharing their new lives as adults! I wonder what God has planned for me in this next season of my life. Maybe this season will bring me to more  wisdom and maturity in my faith? We will see.

I am sad to see the end of this season of my life, but it may be a time to deepen my friendships with those close and who have moved away, explore my relationships with my adult children and find out what God has in store for me next!
All I know is that seasons turn, turn, turn…

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

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Mark this Ukrainian’s prayer request as urgent

May 24, 2014

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Mykola and Tania Symchych with their daughter Olenka

Mykola and Tania Symchych with their daughter Olenka

We Americans know it’s important to vote but we don’t usually experience quite the sense of urgency about elections that Ukrainians feel right now.

On Sunday, Ukraine will elect a new president and other officials while Russia, their powerful and somewhat menacing neighbor looks on. With pro-Russian separatists inciting violence in the eastern part of the country and  several regions voting for independence from Ukraine, the country doesn’t exactly have ideal conditions for free and fair elections.

The outcome of the election—whether a peaceful transition to a new government or what some fear, social and economic decline and more violence—could help determine the country’s fate.

Despite the uncertainty, my friend Mykola Symchych has hope that the elections will bring stability. His Catholic faith has something to do with that hope. On May 25 he will vote for Ukraine’s president as well as for the mayor and city council of Kiev where he, his wife, Tania, and daughter, Olenka, live.

Last Sunday, the Easter season sermon in Mykola’s church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC),  the predominant Catholic church in the country, was preempted by his pastor’s exhortation for the congregation to be sure to vote after carefully considering the candidates.

Identifying candidates who haven’t been involved in corruption or at least seem committed to avoiding it now is challenging as corruption has been systemic in Ukrainian government. To make matters worse, corrupt officials have simply formed new parties, said Mykola, who teaches philosophy at a UGCC seminary and does research. “They’ve just changed masks but they are the same.”

Good guys and bandits

While Mykola is watching or reading the news, three-year-old Olenka points to images of politicians and public figures and asks, “Is he a bandit or not?” She already knows there are good guys and “bandits,” he said.

But while there is unrest in areas of eastern Ukraine including Donets’k and Luhans’k which have resulted in deaths, and even fears of violence as far west as Kiev, Mykola said the capital remains fairly peaceful. Prices for food and other items are higher.

As he crosses Maidan square each morning on the way to work, it’s quiet compared to a few months ago when Ukrainians held mass demonstrations against the former government, he said. “It is a memorial of people who were killed there though there is no need for rallies now.”

Mykola and his family’s Easter celebrations were a bit more somber this year because of the political situation.  The UGCC, though part of the Roman Catholic church normally celebrates Holy Week and Easter with the Orthodox on the Julian calendar instead of with Rome on the Gregorian calendar in order to align with the Russian Orthodox church.

This year however, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox observed the holy days on the same dates, something  that occurs about every four years and could be seen as a sign that greater unity among the churches and the country is possible.  “This year we were together with all the Christians of the world and it was very pleasant,” he said

Prayer is needed

Christians around the world will be watching as Ukraine elects a new government. Mykola asks us to join Ukrainians in praying for his country.

“We want to ask God to help us make the right choice,” he said.  “It is very difficult to make the right choice. Our wisdom is very limited. God knows what is best for us so we have asked him, we have prayed to Him.”

It’s not just about the election, he added.  “All our life we have to ask God to help us. “

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