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The Root and the Shoot

I have had an amazing year.

Like Dorothy to the Scarecrow, my heart is telling me I will miss one thing the most now that I have returned to my St. Louis home and left my Chicago apartment.

Margalit.

Her name means Pearl in Hebrew. And a pearl she is.

It was worth purchasing the entire field, that season of life that lasted from November 2015 to last week–just to possess this great pearl.

Do you know what it is like to talk with a Jewish woman who knows her faith about Chanukuh or Shavuot or Pesach?

When you both realize that Shabbat features Challah bread, with leavening, but Pesach (Passover) only has the unleavened bread, like the Eucharist…you realize something.

When you both realize that there is an exquisite Hebrew poem that talks about the Queen of the Sabbath and you realize that Saturday is known as Mary’s day…you realize something.

When you both begin to wipe away tears because you realize that holiness means something very much the same to each of you, and that the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for both of you, and that you have far more in common than what you do not have in common…

When you realize that you love the same land.

When you discover that Ruth and Naomi are favorites to you both.

When you realize that she prays for the deceased Jewish man or woman and invokes Sarah when the name of the deceased person’s mother is not known, and you realize that you ask for the intercession of Mary, the New Eve. When you realize that she asks for the intercessions of Eva for all others.

When you find out that you are both praying for the Messiah to come–and it is a daily prayer.

When you see the similarity in the Mezuzah and the Holy Water Font, the Mikvah and the Baptismal Font, the days of feasting and fasting.

When she asks if Christians think that Jews are irrelevant now that their Messiah has come and you realize that she just needs to know that nothing could be further from the truth, that the Old Covenant with the LORD remains because God does not revoke His promises, that the New Covenant with Christ means that the Light of the Nations really has gone out into the nations and that you are a beneficiary of that holy nation.

When you choke on your deeply-felt emotions as you say in a husky voice, it is as though you are my matriarch and I am your offspring, even though you are old enough to be her mother.

When you realize that Judaism doesn’t see itself as going out to convert the world even though it is promised to be a Light to the Nations–and you see that paradox clearly yet fully fulfilled in Christ, because we are called out to share the Gospel. It is a mandate. A calling. A supreme duty.

When you talk about the minutiae of both religions and realize that it really is the Root and the Shoot, that she is part of the root, and you are a branch of the Shoot…

That is when you realize that ECUMENISM is the most exciting thing you have encountered in a very long time. It is not dry. It is not dead. It is not hopeless or wrought with angst.

It. Is. Beautiful.

When she pauses one day in Advent to ask how you can believe in the Ten Commandments and yet not believe in One God, and you say that you definitely believe only in One God, and her face is full of questions and doubts. When you say that you believe in God the Father, and she nods in agreement. When you say that you believe in His Spirit, and she nods in agreement. You pause and think, I am 2/3 the way through the difficult teaching on the Trinity. When you say that you believe God became a Man because the whole world needed to be redeemed, and she says, but God did not become a man, and you say:

“He didn’t–

Until He did.”

And in that moment you realize that you have never been asked to defend the Incarnation, but what just came out of your mouth is true.

Truth.

That the Incarnation was unthinkable.

It was impossible.

It was not even in the realm of the imagineable.

And then, God did the unthinkable, impossible, and unimaginable.

So that the holy nation that was once a tribe and before that a family and before that a married, childless couple might become a Light to the Nations–

So that you, too, might be grafted in.

I am Ruth.

She is Naomi.

And I highly doubt that we will ever be the same…though I am old enough to be her mother.

May Catholic BY Grace Column

It is the Marriage at Cana all over again. It really is.

Everyone is celebrating. The crowds are excited and hopeful. And behind the scenes, the apostles are dealing with a crisis.

The Blessed Mother sees both: the celebration and the building crisis. And she intervenes.

Right now, we are gearing up for a celebration. In September, the Church will come together to celebrate the gift of the Sacrament of Marriage and the beauty of the domestic church (the family).  And it should be a time of celebration. A time of hope. A time of gratitude and praise for the gifts we have in marriage and family.

The event is bookended by the Synods on the Family, where the apostles gather together. A crisis threatens marriage, and the Blessed Mother steps into their midst. “My Son, they have no wine.” She seems to be saying it again.

The fundamental building block of our society is crumbling, and the whole thing is about to collapse. It will all come to a screeching halt—this celebration of marriage and family—if something doesn’t happen.

What does it mean to run out of wine today? We see it in the proliferation of pornography, the commonplace use of artificial contraception, the growing number of babies conceived through in vitro fertilization—a process that claims the lives of five-to-ten embryos with every cycle of IVF.

The wine runs out as we see our young people sexualized at earlier and earlier ages, as young women are objectified, as the unborn are sacrificed on the altar of our agendas, our pre-conceived plans, our ideas about the future.

The wine runs out when couples stop working at marriage, stop dating each other, stop putting faith and family at the top of the list.

The wine runs out when men and women stop advocating for marriage and new life, when those advocating for marriage are advocating a completely different reality than the Church has ever held.

The wine runs out when society tells the Church what a Sacrament should be, which lives to protect, when a marriage is over.

My Son, they have no wine.

And yet, the celebration goes on—as it should because marriage and family are worth celebrating. No need to throw our hands into the air and give up. Our Lady has proven that she cares about marriage, and she even cares about the celebrations that surround it.

She intercedes, and her Son acts.

We are living in the moment between celebration and disaster. The bishops see how fragile the family is in modern culture. They have heard Our Lady speak. They have been given the directive to do whatever He says.

It is an odd place to be, standing here, seeing it all. The celebration coming in September, so like the Wedding at Cana.

The Synods on the Family, so like the moment when Our Lady speaks and our Lord acts.

Celebration and crisis.

The water & wine of grace. And the reality of outside forces.

This could be our finest hour. This could be the beginning of a world-wide ministry to the family. It began at the Wedding of Cana. Our Lord’s public ministry. The miraculous intervention. The pairing of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart.

In my darker moments, I see only the approaching crisis. People building hasty marriages. Efforts to redefine marriage. Decisions to discard marriages like they were last year’s fashion statement.

The domestic church is in trouble and the answers won’t be easy. The answers may even require something miraculous.

But we have been here before.

It’s time to rise up. Some things are worth protecting, defining, defending, and salvaging. And once again, water can turn into wine. The celebration will continue.

And the Church will lead the way because she has received the mandate: do whatever He tells you.

Let the Church be the Church.

Pray for the apostles.

And expect a miracle.

 

Pew Research That Changes Things

I am sitting here. On a pew. In the adoration chapel.

I just genuflected and prayed a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament.

My mind played with thoughts, and I brought them back around to prayer, as I so often do during this hour.

And my mind went briefly to that Pew Research Center doomsday summary.

How it’s all declining.

Whatever will happen to organized religion?

Will we all descend into a spiritually blind pit and muddle around until the Lord returns again?

Is the best behind is? The best art? The best music? The best stories of conversion and redemption and miraculous intervention?

And then I looked up and saw Mary.

I thought about her simple humility and her confidence.

Unshakable confidence.

And I thought, what would she do with the whole Pew Research Doomsday thing?

I’m only guessing, but I think she would smile. Tell me to get off my rear and stop wrestling with random thoughts and put the knees on the kneeler for a while.

Don’t just sit and ponder the empty pew.

She’d say something like that.

And maybe she’d smile and add:

My Immaculate Heart will triumph.

My Son has this. He really does.

Walking With Mary To Ein Kerem

Every once in a while, something comes to me, and I just go with it.

Every once in a while, the thought grows into something so much bigger and more amazing than I ever expected.

That is how I would describe Walking With Mary to Ein Kerem.

I didn’t need to pack my bags. I didn’t need a passport. Sometimes, all I needed was the long lane that connects my home with the main road or a treadmill or an elliptical machine at my daughter’s home in Minneapolis.

This journey is a prayer-journey.

This pilgrimage is one we make with the Blessed Mother.

We wake up one morning and decide—with almost the same spontaneity of Mary—that we are going to travel 80 miles in the footsteps of Our Lady.

Eighty miles. That is the distance between Nazareth and Ein Kerem (also spelled Ein Karem), where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.

Yes, Our Blessed Mother made that 80 mile journey alone, on her own two feet, with the Messiah taking on flesh within her. She journeyed through Galilee, Samaria, the Jordan River Valley, and finally through the hills of Judea.

She crossed the threshold of Elizabeth’s home … and the Magnifcat welled up in her spirit and spilled forth from her lips.

DSC_0689 (2)

I made this virtual pilgrimage of prayer with Mary during Lent 2015. In May, I presented the idea to a few friends. It became a Facebook event and almost 400 people joined the journey.

We are sharing our thoughts. The songs that are going through our minds. The things we are seeing. The deliberateness of each step. How good it feels to be moving—and not just moving again, but walking with Mary.

We share about the days we can’t walk, and others comment back: I walked more today than I need to walk, and you can have those miles.

Yes, we are carrying one another on this journey. We are sharing the miles with each other.

But mostly, we are sharing the miles with Mary.

This is no mental game.

This is not a gimmick to get back in shape.

Amazing things are happening in the souls of those who say yes to this journey.

We think of things we have never thought of before. We put on the mind of the Blessed Mother!

It’s not too late. This journey can begin today. It can take as many days as you want to give it.

Here are a couple of things to help you on your journey.

First, a journey tracker. You can fill in the miles as you travel. It is a spreadsheet, and it is ready for you to personalize it any way you want.

Walking With Mary to Ein Kerem

Second, a link to the Facebook Event.

Read the comments. Scan the posts. See the pictures of scenes Mary would have seen.

And enter the journey!

Book Cover Artwork from AMP Gifts of the Visitation

An Ave Maria Press book

 

Track your journey to the Visitation this May

May Walking With Mary

 

Click on the link to access the chart. Journey to Elizabeth’s home with the Blessed Mother–and share Christ!

The Gift of Jet Lag

You wake up earlier than everyone else in the house.

You fall asleep in the chair when the family sits down to catch up on recorded episodes of Survivor.

In the middle of the day, you have to retreat to your bedroom and crash. The whole rhythm of your day is thrown off.

After a pilgrimage, the phenomenon of jet lag is a gift–provided your schedule permits you to freelance your way through your days.

But it is a time of decompression. A debriefing chamber. A zone where nobody else can go. You are alone–with God. Falling asleep with Him. Waking to Him. Submitting to the weakness of your body, which becomes a submission to Him.

Jet lag becomes a prayer–a prayer of restoration.

As with every phase of the journey, this one is also a gift, if we would recognize it for the gift that it is.

Goodbye is the hardest part.

Tomorrow is our last day in Jordan.

My dear friend, Diana von Glahn, is leaving in the morning for Israel. She is leading a pilgrimage; so instead of going home on Sunday, she will be off to Nazareth. I’m sad. We have had a wonderful time together here, and I don’t know when I will see her again. I don’t know if we will ever travel together like this. I don’t want to say goodbye.

But I will be getting up in the morning and having a final breakfast with her.

Today, we saw Mukawir, King Herod’s fortress and the site of the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Neither Diana nor I are likely to die soon, but we are having to let one another go. That’s hard to do in friendship. That’s hard to do, period.

But she has a calling, a mission. And my mission is here, then home, then God knows where.

I thought of that today as I blinked back tears at the thought of her leaving tomorrow. I thought of that as I contemplated John the Baptist in the cave where he was held. He sent a message to Jesus asking if he was the One. That’s all he needed to know. Tell me again that you are the One we have waited for; tell me again that this is the plan. I can do all things–if I know this–even say goodbye to you, dear cousin.

Behold the Lamb.

Behold the momentary separation.

Behold a plan that is greater and more amazing than anything we can imagine.

At the end of life’s pilgrimage, we  also say our goodbyes. But they are not permanent goodbyes if we are in Christ. The things of this world are passing away. It just keeps happening as all things press on to the day of Our Lord’s return.

I stood among the ruins of Mukawir.

I thought of John and Jesus.

I thought of many things.

I thought of many people.

My priest.

My family.

My call to pilgrimage and all the goodbyes that we face in life–and death.

Even so, all things work together for the good of those who serve the Lord. Diana, go forth to serve the Lord in that unique and wonderful way in which God created you to serve.

And I will do the same. Until later, my friend.

There was a wedding in Moab …

Today, we witnessed the wedding of a Melkite Catholic couple.

The thing that struck me the most was that the groom waited with great anticipation in the courtyard of the small church near. When the bride arrived, there was a big celebration–honking cars, cheering, clapping, even a gun shot into the air to mark the event.

The groom went out to meet his bride.

And I thought of Our Lord, the groom and the bride, His Church.

One day, God willing, we will be part of that great wedding.

There was a wedding in Moab. And the groom went out to meet His Bride.

Oh, that we might be counted worthy to be part of that Bride of Christ.

Day One: Traveling to Jordan

It makes me laugh to myself when people ask me if I’m scared to travel to places like Israel or Palestine or Jordan.

“No.” I tell them. Besides, I’m thinking, I wouldn’t do anything at all if I listened to my fears—those worst-case-scenarios. Forget them.

This morning, as I stepped into the shower, it was lightening like crazy. Somewhere in the back of my head, I remember hearing that you shouldn’t take a shower during a lightning storm.

I took a shower any way.

The other day, my daughter went for a run down our lane and decided to take our labradoodle for the run. The cows in an adjacent field weren’t too thrilled with Max. Every time my daughter ran past them with the dog, the mama cows would charge—well, charge is a little strong. They would sort of hop toward her with their clunky bodies while the requisite bull looked on in boredom. It was the wrong time of year for him to care about the females.

I watched from the patio window and wanted to yell at my daughter to bring Max inside or wait until the cows went down to the back part of their pasture.

I kept my mouth shut.

On Tuesday, my grandsons came for a visit. They took turns on the Big Wheel. The older two thought it was great fun to roll down the slope in the backyard, whiz past the Mary garden, and come within a foot or two of the corner by the basement’s bulkhead doors.

Okay, that time I did mention to the boys to be careful and aim in a slightly different angle when they launched from the patio.

The point is, fear is paralyzing, and the things we fear keep us from enjoying the best things in life.

And those fears rarely—almost never, ever, ever—materialize.

So, no. I am not afraid when I travel internationally.

The flight is the scariest part, and that can even be fun. The little girl in the seat in front of me from St. Louis to Chicago laughed the whole way. The. Whole. Way.

So. Be not afraid.

No kidding. Don’t be afraid. Isaiah 41:10

Because, mostly, there is a great big wonderful world out there. It is very good. (Genesis 1:31) Thanks be to God.

 

T’was The Night Before Jordan

I’m packed.

Having second thoughts about everything, except the decision to go to Jordan. Did I pack enough? Did I pack too much.

Did I pack the right things?

I’m not even sure the flip flops for the Dead Sea were the right choice.

It’s just night-before jitters. Once I hit the polished floor of the check-in level at the STL airport tomorrow morning, I’ll be good to go.

But tonight, I’m battling nervous energy.

It’s the night before induced labor. Or something like that.

But the basics are covered. My bags are packed. I’ve been to confession. I have money and my passport and extra batteries.

I have every tech gadget I own.

I’m ready.

Come, Holy Spirit … because in some ways, I’m not ready.