Friday, October 31, 2014

Suffering? Find Solace in God

Who doesn't know someone who is suffering?

Who hasn't felt alone, abandoned, and afraid?

Throughout the Bible, we find those who experience unfathomable pain, illness, grief, and trials. The common thread is that they seek relief by the healing hand of Jesus.

In this vein our daughter, Erika, has opened her heart and poured out her feelings as she experiences yet another migraine day. Her 33 years of life have been filled with both physical and heart-wrenching trials, yet she clings to her faith. I share her words below, in the hope that it will bring solace to others.

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We are being tested and God can fix big things in our favor if we ask Him.

O, Most Gracious and Loving God,

I humbly beseech Thee to turn Thy eyes upon my trials. If it be Thy will, resolve the difficulties in my life. Fill me with your Grace, Peace, and Joy even amid suffering.

Through Thee all things are possible. Through Thee all good things come. Through Thee suffering turns to Joy. Through Thee conflict turns to Peace. Through Thee disharmony turns to Grace.

Harden not my heart if my petitions are not answered according to my will, but let me sing Thy praises in Awe and Thanksgiving for Thy Will be done in all things. Amen

This is a prayer, if you believe in God, drop everything and pass it on to as many friends as you feel need it! Perhaps tomorrow will be the best day of your life!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Be Spooked by Hallowe'en

Once we realize the origins of Hallowe'en, we will find that this is a day to celebrate, not to frighten. In that vein, we Catholic Christians choose to dress as saints or other characters we admire, as well as poking a bit of fun at the devil. After all, his battle has already been lost; Jesus Christ the Savior won that victory when he became man and dwelt among us. He even allowed the devil to tempt him, as an illustration of the power of light over darkness.

Sometimes the eve of October 31st, as well as the days of November 1st and 2nd, are unofficially called the "Days of the Dead" - after all these are the days we pray for or remember those no longer dwelling on this earth. We celebrate all the Saints in Heaven All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows') on the evening of October 31 and November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows', we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory being purged of the temporal effects of the sins committed during their lifetime, before they can enter Heaven.

It might be good to look at these three days of Hallowe'en as follows:

  • October 31 - Hallowe'en (All Hallows Eve) is a time to recall the reality of hell and work through the best ways to avoid it. We remember that there are damned souls and vow not to join them. Many Catholics will attend Mass on the evening of this day as a fulfillment of their All Saints Day obligation. This is also the evening that many children dress up and collects sweet treats from neighbors and friends. 
  • November 1 - All Saints Day is officially a Holy Day of Obligation. We honor the Church Triumphant on this day by recalling our great saints as well as those uncanonized saints not known to us.
  • November 2 - All Souls Day, while not a Holy Day of Obligation, is when we remember to pray for the Church Suffering - those souls who are still in Purgatory. Remembering our deceased loved ones and having a Mass said for them is a Corporal Work of Mercy.

Originally, the earliest form of All Saints Day was celebrated on May 13. As it has been since the 300's, this is still the case in some Eastern Churches. Intitially, only the martyrs were commemorated, but by 741, all of the saints had been included. It wasn't until the year 844 that Pope Gregory III transferred the Feast Day to November 1st. This was the year he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints - this should put to rest the theory that the date of All Saints Day was fixed because of the harvest festival of the Irish pagans.

All Souls Day originated with the Bishop of Cluny, who in A.D. 1048, decreed that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day. The practice further spread until it was recommended for the entire Latin Church by Pope Sylvester II. 

In Irish popular piety, the evening before, Hallowe'en (All Hallows or "Hallows' Eve") became a day of remembering the dead who are damned.These customs spread to many parts of the world, thus initiating the popular focus of Hallowe'en as the reality of Hell. As a result, scary characters, focus on evil and how to avoid it,and the sad fate of damned souls captured the imagination.

Traditional circles find the celebration - even whether or not to celebrate it at all, to be a controversial topic. Often, we hear that Hallowe'en is a pagan holiday" - quite contrary to the meaning and origin of Hallowe'en as explained above. All Hallows' Evening, is a Catholic a holiday with roots in remembering saints, sinners, and the damned. Although some say that the holiday actually stems from Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration, or is Satanic, this simply isn't true. It's also rather amusing that October 31 is also "Reformation Day" in Protestant circles -  recalling Luther's having nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg's cathedral door.

As with many Church celebration, commercialization/secularization of the holiday and popular myths proclaiming the origin is pagan, find some refusing to celebrate Hallowe'en at all, etc. Others celebrate without trepidation while though keeping their celebration Catholic and refraining from  the ugliness that has marred the day in the secular world. Hopefully, whatever your family decides, it's vital to keep the facts straight, and to refrain from judging others who decide to celebrate Hallowe'en differently or not at all. As in all instances of our lives, charity is key.

If your family would like to celebrate Hallowe'en, here's a bit of trivia and some suggestions:

  • The customs of Hallowe'en are a mixture of Catholic popular devotions, and French, Irish, and English customs all mixed together. 
  • The custom of dressing up comes from the French.
  • Carved Jack-o-lanterns, come from the Irish, who originally carved turnips. 
  • English Catholics initiated the custom of begging from door to door, which was a purer form of "trick-or-treating." Children would go door to door begging their neighbors for a "Soul Cake". In turn, they would say a prayer for those neighbors' dead saying, 
"A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake,
have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!"
  • Customary foods for Hallowe'en include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples - and are best eaten around a fire.
  •  Bobbing for apples on Hallowe'en is an old Celtic custom.
  • Dressing up as a saint can be a springboard for learning about their lives and their special graces. 
  • Using the opportunity of costumes to teach others about those who loved God so much.
  • Incorporating the wearing of costumes into a visit to a nursing hope - to bring a bit of joy to the elderly and lonely.
Saint Elizabeth, Saint Cecilia, and Snow White
If done with an eye toward faith, Hallowe'en can be an enjoyable holiday for your family. It offers an opportunity to teach children about the reality of evil and hell, the reassurance that evil was conquered by Jesus, and the hope of Heaven for those living holy lives. After all, Satan has no power over those who live in Christ. In balance, we must teach them to protect themselves from all things occult - Ouija boards, casting spells, and calling down spirits must not be attempted or tolerated. These things only invite the devil into our lives. 

Instead, remind them the power of the Holy Name of Jesus, sacramentals, and prayers such as the St. Michael Prayer. And don't forget to pray for the intercession of the saints - that those who don't know Jesus will come to know His love and mercy. This God-Man, who loved us so much that He allowed himself to suffer and die for us!

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Saint Michael the Archangel from last year.
Note: I made the Saint Elizabeth and Snow White costumes. The Saint Cecilia costume was purchased at Cracker Barrel. Saint Elizabeth will carry bread and roses in her cloak, while Saint Cecilia will carry a harp. The girls had a good time learning about the saints and we focused on Snow White's heart of service.

UPDATE: I created the following meme to share a Catholic view of Hallowe'en. Feel free to share it by following this link.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

My daughter, Erika, wrote this poem and created the accompanying graphics in commemoration of the four children she lost through miscarriage. These little saints in heaven, known only by God, are waiting for us!

Millions of women are silently grieving for unknown lives.
These quiet women walk among us averting their eyes
from expectant mothers with proudly rounded bellies
And arms full of healthy happy babies.
For reasons unknown, these women are left alone without recourse,
while 'pro-choice' women claim 'buyer's' remorse.
Their 'choice' rips and tears the life other women mourn.
That is the pain that can not be borne.
With no precious babes or children dear
These women feel adrift and neither there nor here.
Daggers such as these keep tears unshed.
Pain swells and grows and knows no end.
Guilt builds with each arrow and sling
until finally it becomes it's own thing.
Eventually, children may grow unencumbered in the womb,
but the memory of the lost ones remains beyond the tomb.
Long after acceptance creeps in,
the mother finds herself thinking, "I wonder when...
When did I know?
What could I have done?
Who should I have told?
How should I have been?"
Yet in her heart of hearts she knows,
Her child is near her still, beneath God's arms in his rainbows.
God blesses her little saints, she counts them Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier.
Never again, that pain of loss, will she fear.

UPDATE: Since there seems to be a lot of misconception on the topic of where these little ones go after death - not having had the opportunity for baptism - I'll let the Catechism of the Catholic Church give a response. There is not official doctrine or dogma.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus'tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism. - The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Reflections on my Cancer-versary

It's been 9 years since my younger sister badgered me into resuming my annual mammograms. I had been in fearful denial for several years. It's also been nine years since my diagnosis with hereditary BRCA-1 breast cancer - the worst possible scenario. A look at my family history tells the grim tale.

My great-grandmother died in her 40's, my grandmother at 42, my mother at 58. I was diagnosed the very year my sis urged me - one more time - to get another mammogram. Even my 28 year old daughter joined the 'party' when she was 20 weeks pregnant. Our prognosis as part of the BRCA-1 'club' is not good. Agressive breast cancer, a propensity for ovarian cancer, and a life expectancy that is far from ideal. Yet life goes on.

I was lucky (blessed) to have learned from my dear departed mother's demise. It's foolish not to go to the best possible cancer treatent center - in my case, MD Anderson Cancer Center, where they're working to 'make cancer history'. The forward-thinking doctors there know better than to fool around. They take this monster at face value - it's a killer. They are on the cutting edge of science, spot on for personal care, and wonderfully spiritual in their support.

All of this inside baseball information brings me to a couple of important points for those reading this.

1) Awareness and vigilance is vital. Go have that annual checkup for whatever may ail you. It may just save your life.

2) No one should die so that another can live! Before you get lost in a filmy cloud of PINK awareness, find out how to best serve those who struggle with breast cancer. Susan G Komen and the American Cancer Society are NOT the answer. Their use and advocating for embryonic stem cell research and acceptance of abortion for pregnant cancer victims, disqualifies them. To find out more, check out Six Things to Consider During the Pink Month for the details and ethical alternatives.

So happy 9th Cancer-versary to me! God has blessed me with another year and a loving sister. May I use my remaining time on earth to His Glory!