Friday, September 23, 2011

On Vocation, Suffering, and Disillusionment: World Youth Day and Being God's

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

A friend of mine, who runs her own lovely blog for Catholic moms, asked me to write a guest column for her blog on World Youth Day. Only, she asked me to do this shortly after I returned from World Youth Day, which was almost a month ago now. I think she was interested in hearing and sharing a Catholic mom's-eye view of World Youth Day, which got me really thinking about how this World Youth Day experience was different for me than my other two, since it was my first as a mom. It also got me thinking about vocation in general, and although this is a month late and at least a few ounces of "I'm a bubbly Catholic mama blogger" short, I'll offer what I have first here in the Coffee Talk forum, and then perhaps to be shared on my friend's blog as well.

My first World Youth Day experience was in Denver, Colorado in 1993 with Pope John Paul II. I was 15 years old, and looking back on that time, I believe that even though I probably can't remember a word that was said in any catechetical session or many specific things that happened at that event (I do remember feeling sick after a solid week of McDonald's food!), I do know that WYD Denver was my first taste of what it really meant to be Catholic (and no, it was not the taste of McDonald's!). In those days, I suddenly saw, heard, and felt, what it meant to be part of something much larger than myself, something much greater, higher, broader, more significant. I knew for the first time what it meant that the Church was truly Universal, or in a word, Catholic. For 15-year-old Leslie, full of youth, hope, and idealism, I think that WYD Denver helped me to form a deeper sense of having a calling in life, and seeing that I was a small but important part of some much bigger plan and design for life and the world.

My next World Youth Day experience was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2002. I traveled with a group of international alumni from NET Ministries (National Evangelization Teams), and helped to facilitate the catechetical sessions. This WYD was also especially meaningful to me in terms of my vocation, or calling in life, because I attended just weeks before entering religious life with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. I felt that perhaps God was calling me to live as a Dominican Sister, and was accepted to live as a postulant (or one who asks the question) with the community. I remember clearly Pope John Paul II's message to the young people at his final WYD, especially to those considering priesthood and religious life, and I felt a deep hope and responsibility in responding to God's call as I heard it, even if it meant leaving behind regular contact with family and friends, a good job, and a graduate degree program that was being entirely paid for by my employer. I was ready to put my hand to the plow and to not look behind, following God wherever he was leading me. Little did I know where this path would take me.

My most recent World Youth Day experience was last month in Madrid, Spain. As I said, it was my first WYD as a mom, so you can probably gather that I did not become a Dominican Sister. After a school year of living with the beautiful community, I returned home, not at all sure why the Lord had called me there if He didn't want me to stay, and completely uncertain as to what path might lie ahead. When my friend recently asked me to share my 'mom's-eye' view of what WYD was like, it reminded me a bit of when I was asked to share my 'vocation story' for a Catholic magazine. The editor who asked me was relatively new to the publication, and so I was certain that she assumed that I was a happily married Catholic wife and mom. Strangely, I'd had a sense that I'd be called upon to share my story, complete with the sad divorce-and-annulment and all, so I told her that I'd be willing to share, but that my story wasn't probably the one she expected. She accepted my offer, and the result was published here. So in those years between WYD Toronto and WYD Spain, I'd experienced a whole lot of life and whole lot of heartache, especially in terms of my vocation. I never expected to attend a World Youth Day again after having children, and especially not after unexpectedly becoming a single mom, so I knew that when I was called upon to lead a group to Madrid, God must have some message for me, as well.

There are SO many things that I could say about my experience at World Youth Day Madrid, and about what I feel like God wanted me to take from the whole experience. I'll try to sum it up in three main themes:

1. Vocation is always rooted in reality, and in the present moment.
2. Vocation is always rooted in love, and in loving again and again.
3. Vocation means being God's, even on the Cross.

I'll offer a few thoughts on each one before I drift off to dream-land.

1. Vocation is always rooted in reality, and in the present moment.

Have you ever known someone who was always 'discerning' their vocation? Don't get me wrong -- discernment is not a bad thing, but I think that sometimes we confuse discerning with fanciful daydreaming. And these daydreams don't necessarily have to take the form of something glamorous, for even the dream of suffering or martyrdom can be heroic in the mind's eye. Take my own situation -- sure, I can consider and pray about what the Lord might like me to do in the future. Would He like me to be married, to be a missionary, to enter religious life after my children are grown? But ultimately, the most important aspect of my vocation is rooted in my present reality -- I know that I am called to be the best mom I can be to my 3 and 5-year-old daughters, and to be a single person living a holy life in the midst of the world. And I should keep dedicating my life fully to those tasks at hand until such a time as the Lord presents something else to me, puts something or someone clearly in my path and asks me to take a different direction. Until that time, there is no use spending countless hours (or even minutes!) thinking about what could be or what might have been. Vocation is reality, plain and simple, and often that involves our lives being very different than we might have wished them to be. So be it.

2. Vocation is always rooted in love, and in loving again and again.

Whenever I think of vocation, I think of little St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast we will soon celebrate on October 1. St. Therese, a young cloistered Carmelite nun, desired to do everything. She described it here:
To be your Spouse, O Jesus, to be a Carmelite, by my union with you to be the mother of souls, should content me... yet it does not... Without doubt, these three privileges are indeed my vocation: Carmelite, spouse, and mother. And yet I feel in myself other vocations—I feel myself called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr. Finally, I feel the need, the desire to perform all the most heroic deeds for you, Jesus... I feel in my soul the courage of a crusader, of a soldier for the Church, and I wish to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church...
And as she continued to search in the depths of her heart and her soul for her vocation, she finally had this culminating moment in her prayer:
Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!.... Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”
Now, some think Therese to have been a syrup-y sweet little saint who always had life easy, and so her joy and happiness must have come to her with ease, as well. I can assure you that this was not the case, nor is it the case with any sincere disciple of Christ. No, my friends, we are asked to choose love and to live love again and again. And I think that even though perhaps the habit of loving makes it easier, the act of loving in the face of hatred, persecution, malignment, and every form of human suffering is a discipline that is possible not by human effort alone, but by grace. And then we are called to love again. And again. And again. To be willing to take the risk of loving not just once, not twice, but an infinite number of times. I suspect that this is part of what the Psalmist is referring to when he says, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Do you hear God's voice, even in the midst of your pain and suffering? Open your heart to the possibility of loving again, to hurting again, to being healed again, and then once again to loving.

3. Vocation means being God's, even on the Cross.

This is a hard one, especially for someone like me. I like to always have an identity in something I'm doing, or in being someone impressive. I'd like to say that it's not true, but it is. So since that last WYD to this recent one, I was many things: student, graduate, discerning, postulant, bride, wife, mother, divorced, annulled. I felt that God had led me down a number of different paths, and that while I'd followed in all sincerity, none of them took me to the place I thought I'd end up. And I realized, at World Youth Day in Madrid, that I was among many young people who had endured a great deal of suffering for their faith. I realized that there were many other faithful young Catholics besides myself who are also now divorced and annulled. I know that there were young mothers and fathers there, who have lost children or spouses to death. And I know that there were many people there for whom the gathering at World Youth Day was a rare opportunity to practice their faith openly without fear of intense persecution or legal penalty. I realized that ultimately, the Christian vocation means following Christ even unto death, and that means accepting the Cross. And that even in the face of uncertainty, embarrassment, disillusionment, pain, and suffering we are always God's, and God is always present. Always. And that 'Being God's' is the one vocation that never ends. For both in life and death we belong to God, and we know that the story of the Cross is one of unimaginable and senseless suffering bearing the greatest fruit of redemption that the world has ever known.

I'll close with a beautiful quote from a little card that I carry in my wallet:
Your life is His affair; it is produced by His steady attraction. It consists in being drawn, at His pace, and in His way, to the place where He wants you to be, which is often not the place you fancied for yourself. It is trying to see things, persons, and choices from the angle of eternity, and accepting them as a part of the material in which the Holy Spirit works. ~ Sister Rose Marie Masserano, O.P.
Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Thoughts on the Hans Küng Interview Regarding Benedict XVI

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

My friend posted an article sufficiently interesting to make me jump right back on the Coffee Talk bandwagon, so I hope you enjoy my simple commentary on some intensely nerdy Catholic news!

Here's the scoop: Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest and controversial theologian. Although I am not particularly a 'fan' of Hans Küng, I must note that  he is a very interesting person in a very interesting situation -- Fr. Küng (why does no one ever call him Father??) was very involved in the Second Vatican Council (a.k.a. Vatican II). However, in the late 1970s, Küng publicly renounced the Catholic dogma of papal infallibility, and the Vatican in turn revoked his permission to officially teach Catholic theology. However, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have ever revoked his priestly faculties, so he remains a priest to this day, and in addition to administering the sacraments, he continues to stir up theological trouble and debate where he can, in informal (though still very public) ways. 

Another priest who was involved, alongside Küng, as a theological advisor to Vatican II is even better known, now as Pope Benedict XVI. As the Holy Father (I wonder if that title makes Father Küng cringe a little?) prepares for a week-long visit to Germany starting tomorrow, Hans Küng has offered an interview with Spiegel, offering sharp criticisms not only of the papacy in general, but of Benedict XVI in a number of particular ways.

Read the full interview here, if you'd like, and then I'll offer just a few of my thoughts on the interview and Küng's criticisms. I will respond intralinearly, with the interview text itself indented, and my thoughts between the interview excerpts.
SPIEGEL: Professor Küng, your former faculty colleague Joseph Ratzinger is coming to Germany this week for a state visit. Do you have an audience scheduled with him?

Küng: I didn't request an audience. I am fundamentally more interested in conversations than audiences.
Interesting way to set the tone for the interview.
SPIEGEL: Does Benedict XVI even talk to you anymore?
Küng: After his election to be pope, he invited me to his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, where we had a four-hour friendly conversation. At the time, I hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era of openness. But that hope has not been fulfilled. We correspond with each other once in a while. The sanctions against me -- the withdrawal of my permission to teach -- still exist. (Ed's note: The Vatican revoked Küng's permission to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after he publicly rejected the dogma of papal infallibility.)
I'm quite sure that, after more than thirty years of living with this sanction, it is no secret to Küng what is keeping him from being able to teach with permission in the Church, especially since he and Benedict XVI are in regular contact. The Church's aim, with any sanction or excommunication, is not to keep a person permanently away from the sacraments or teaching office. Reconciliation, whenever possible, is desired.

SPIEGEL: When was the last time Benedict wrote to you?
Küng: Through his private secretary (Georg) Gänswein, he thanked me for sending him my latest book and sent me his best wishes.
Well, that was rather gracious of the Holy Father, if you ask me, especially after what Hans Küng wrote!
SPIEGEL: In your polemic book "Ist die Kirche noch zu retten?" ("Can the Church Still Be Saved?"), which was published earlier this year, you harshly criticized the pope for his anti-reformist policy.
Küng: I find it very gratifying that he hasn't ended the personal relationship despite my criticism.
Like I said!
SPIEGEL: Many Catholics feel that the Church is in a rather desolate state. The cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests has driven believers away from the Church in droves. What's going wrong?
Küng: If you put it that simply, I'll give you a simple answer. Ratzinger's predecessor, John Paul II, launched a program of ecclesiastical and political restoration, which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. He wanted a re-Christianization of Europe. And Ratzinger was his most loyal assistant, even at an early juncture. One could call it a period of restoration of the pre-council Roman regime.
WHAT?!? Hold the phones, everybody, because this is where the interview just got ridiculous. Anyone who tells me that "John Paul II launched a program ... which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council" just totally lost me. And then, when I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and follow out whatever his 'logical' conclusion might be as to how JPII acted against the intentions of Vatican II, he claims that his desire for "a re-Christianization of Europe" is what stood in conflict with the intention of the Council. Oh, dear.

There are SO many misunderstandings about the Second Vatican Council, its documents, and its intentions. Now, I feel like a bit of a whippersnapper commenting on this at all, because here I am, 33-year-old post-Vatican II Leslie, criticizing 83-year-old Hans Küng who was a theological advisor to the Second Vatican Council. I guess the only thing I have going for me at this point that he doesn't is that, so  far, I have not been prohibited by the Vatican from teaching in the Catholic Church. But in all seriousness, I guess I want you all to know that I temper my remarks with a necessary humility and an understanding that I'm sure I could learn quite a lot from Hans Küng!

That said, I want everyone to understand that just because Vatican II called for a spirit of right ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue (which, by the way, was a big old deal, especially at the time the documents were first published!), this does not mean that Catholic Christians no longer accept Jesus as Christ! Naturally, we would like all people of the world to experience the joys of everlasting happiness, and we believe that salvation comes through Jesus, and is normally mediated through the Church. Does this mean that we believe that all non-Catholics, or even non-Christians (Catholics were the first Christians, for the record) are not going to be saved? No! Read my other post about it, if you'd like a better explanation. But still, we believe that if any person is granted salvation, it is through Jesus and the Church, even if that is not known to them explicitly in this life. So desiring the re-Christianization of Europe would hardly be contrary to the intention of Vatican II. Pope John Paul II was hardly calling for a new inquisition, and if I had to choose one person who lived the spirit and intentions of the Second Vatican Council as fully in this life as is humanly possible, I'd vote for our Blessed JP II any day.

Alright, I said I'd be brief, so let me move on!

SPIEGEL: When the pope comes to Germany, tens of thousands of people will cheer him at major events. Church leaders will not exactly interpret this as a symptom of crisis.
Küng: I wouldn't have anything against such events if they truly helped the Church locally. But there is a huge discrepancy between the façade, which is now being erected once again for the papal visit to Germany, and the reality. It creates the impression that this is a powerful and healthy church. It is certainly powerful, but is it healthy? We now know that these events do almost nothing for local parishes. They don't lead to more people attending services, more people wanting to become priests or fewer people leaving the Church.
I don't buy this, even for a minute. I have personally witnessed a difference in Mass attendance and involvement with parish ministries and other activities on the part of many people who just encountered the Holy Father at World Youth Day in Madrid, and many of them felt inspired by the gathering to discern priesthood or religious life, to be married in the Church, and to be more firmly committed to their Catholic faith.
SPIEGEL: Still, some 70,000 people are expected to attend the service in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
Küng: They're not all believers; the crowd will include many curious onlookers. The believers who will attend are mainly conservative Catholics with no interest in reforms. There are also notorious young, hysterical Benedict fans who are also always present at the major papal events. Most of them are recruited from strictly conservative groups. For many people, the pope is still, to a certain extent, a positive role model and a moral force, although others feel that this aspect has suffered greatly.
Again, I cannot believe that most of the young people gathering together will be either 'hysterical' nor 'recruited from strictly conservative groups.' Baloney.
SPIEGEL: Many in the Catholic Church says that if all the reforms you call for were implemented, you would be making the church more Protestant and abandoning its Catholic nature.
Küng: The Church will undoubtedly become somewhat more Protestant. But we will always preserve our unique nature. Our global way of thinking, our universality, differentiates us from a certain narrowness in the Protestant regional churches. It should remain that way, just as the office (of the pope) should be retained. But if everything is concentrated in the office, we'll end up with a medieval vicar, a prince-bishop and the pope as absolute monarch, who simultaneously embodies the executive, the legislative and the judiciary -- in contradiction to modern democracy and the Gospel.
I'm pretty sure that Pope Benedict XVI enjoys being Catholic, and unashamedly, so do I. To be Catholic is to live in the universal faith. End of discussion.
SPIEGEL: You and Benedict are traveling along two different paths. You want to reform the Church to keep it alive. The pope is trying to seal off the Church from the outside world and increasingly restrict it to a conservative core, which may possibly survive.
I HATE this question, which is not even a question at all! It is a totally loaded and biased statement, and I could not disagree more heartily. Anyone who attended, or witnessed even indirectly, the recent events of World Youth Day would agree with me that Pope Benedict XVI is very much interested in keeping the Church alive, and literally opening it to all the people of the world, particularly the young.
SPIEGEL: Your prognosis [for the Church] sounds grim.
Küng: I think it's very important that we do not sink into pessimism. But my diagnosis has shown that the Church is sick, and it's the sickness of the Roman system. Under these circumstances, I can't just behave like an ineffective doctor and say that everything will be fine.
SPIEGEL: What would be the treatment?
Küng: The base must gather its strength and make itself heard, so that the system can no longer circumvent it. I presented a comprehensive list of measures in my book.
HA! Shameless advertisement and self-promotion of his own book as a presentation of the only comprehensive way to 'doctor' the ailing Church. Info-mercial, anyone?
SPIEGEL: More than a year ago, you wrote an open letter to all bishops in the world, in which you offered a detailed explanation of your criticism of the pope and the Roman system. What was the response?
Küng: There are about 5,000 bishops in the world, but none of them dared to comment publicly. This clearly shows that something isn't right.
Exactly. But I think the problem might not be with the 5,000 bishops.
SPIEGEL: Would another council like Vatican II help the Church?
Küng: I hope that there will be a council, or at least a representative convention of the Catholic Church.
This question is so annoying to me. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against progress in the Church, nor am I wanting to go 'back to the good old days' to solve the problems of the Church in the modern world. However, having studied all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, I find that there is still much to be done in the way of proper implementation of Vatican II, which ended nearly a half century ago! We are still plumbing the depths of the so-called 'spirit of Vatican II,' and I'm afraid that many of the people interested in the 'spirit' have not read any of the documents!

Alright, I think I've been theologically cheeky enough for one night. Special thanks to my friend who posted this article, who I fear may be the only one who reads this now-too-lengthy blog post!

Let's pray for the Holy Father's visit to Germany, for all priests and theologians, and for all Church leaders and all of the faithful to be open to necessary reforms in the Church based on the authentic movements of the Holy Spirit.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's going on with this Fr. Frank Pavone business?

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Well, many of you have probably heard something of the recent and unfortunate news about Fr. Frank Pavone, the priest in charge of Priests for Life and a priest I've mentioned previously in my posts about the Mass he celebrated with Gianna Emanuela Molla and about his work in bringing Baby Joseph to the United States for palliative care. As always, I begin by reminding all of us that I don't know much about this situation, and neither do you. With that disclaimer in mind, I am always happy to share my own understanding of the Catholic news in a way that is easy to understand, so here it goes.

Fr. Frank Pavone is the head of Priests for Life, which is headquartered in Staten Island, New York. However, Fr. Pavone is incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, and Bishop Patrick Zurik, Bishop of Amarillo, has recalled Fr. Pavone to his Diocese and has restricted his priestly ministry to that Diocese for an unspecified time of prayer and reflection. Bishop Zurik, in a now public statement addressed to his brother bishops and cardinals, explains that he is recalling Fr. Pavone due to a lack of obedience, and specifically because he has "deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization." Fr. Frank Pavone responded with his own public statement, in which he mentions his own appeal to the Vatican in regard to his current recall to Amarillo, but also his obedience to the bishop and his return to Amarillo.

So what we know is this:
  1. Bishop Zurik has some concerns about Fr. Frank Pavone's obedience, and the financial administration and stewardship of the Priests for Life; 
  2. Fr. Frank Pavone is incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo and has returned there under obedience, though not without an appeal to the Vatican; 
  3. Fr. Frank is still a priest in good standing and is able to exercise his priestly ministry within the Diocese of Amarillo at this time;
  4. there's a whole lot of information that we do not, cannot, and probably never will know about this whole situation; 
  5. we should all pray for Bishop Zurik, Fr. Frank Pavone, and the Priests for Life.
Situations like this always make me wish that I was a canon lawyer, because it is in canon (or church) law that we can find many clarifications to a complex situation like this. For example, what does it mean that Fr. Pavone has permission to lead the Priests for Life and is under obedience to a Bishop who has oversight of that organization, but that he is still incardinated in Amarillo and is still responsible and vowed to obedience to that Ordinary (or Bishop) as well?

Well, my friends, we're all in luck, because whenever I have a canon law conundrum, I can always count on canon law blogger Edward Peters to clear things up. In his post on the Zurek-Pavone dispute, he does just that, and I really recommend reading his article in full. It gives good clarifications and perspective on the situation.

As you may have guessed, I like what little I know of Fr. Frank Pavone and his ministry. I met him briefly this summer at a Mass he celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestachowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on the occasion of the first US visit of Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna Molla, and he seemed to be sincere and firmly committed to the faith and to working on behalf of the unborn and all human life. Apparently some of his activities have been controversial, but I don't know much about that, nor do I know anything about the financial stewardship of the Priests for Life. I also don't know anything about Bishop Zurik, but I pray that everything will be resolved as quickly and amicably as possible, and that the good work of the Catholic Church, especially on behalf of all of the poor and defenseless (particularly the unborn) might continue on. I always hate when things like these cause scandal to believers and unbelievers alike, and I encourage everyone to take heart and keep these people in prayer. One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that I know that I am not responsible for judging these people or this situation. I hope that's a load off your minds, as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Came, We Saw, We Conquered: CONFIRMATION!

Well, Coffee Talkers, some said it couldn't be done. Maybe some even thought that it shouldn't be done. But it is done!

Night one of youth confirmation classes at Our Lady of the Desert happened!

No fatalities, no injuries, and some fun, faith, fellowship, and YouCat!

Anyone who was there can attest to the amazing feat of having gotten through the first crazy and amazing night! From here on out, it should be smooth sailing, my friends.

A big shout out of thanks to the people who made tonight possible -- the catechists, assistants, on-the-spot translators, office volunteers, parents, and students. We did it! And it could not have happened without you.

Don't forget to read your YouCats, everybody! :)

Peace and all good,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Still With Sorrow and Pain, We Remember

Dear Coffee Talkers,

As this tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11th comes to a close, I feel that little more can be said than has already been said. Still, I'll offer what little I have. What can we really do in the face of unthinkable pain and tragedy but have recourse to something, Someone higher than ourselves? Why were certain lives spared, and other lives lost? It's easy to offer trite sayings like, "Well, I guess it was God's time for some to go," or "God must have a special purpose for those people whose lives were spared," but this all seems a severe oversimplification at best, and at worst it seems a mockery of a God who is supposed to have loved humanity into being.

It is interesting to think back to that terrible time ten years ago, and to the months that followed. People mourned together, and they returned to their places of worship, many for the first time in years. Why? Why did these people not harden their hearts even further, taking a permanent turn away from this so-called God who had allowed such atrocities?

I must warn you that I'm leading you down my train of thought without any definitive answers, but I bring you along with me in the hopes that your own journey will lead you to a place of peace. And for me, the only place of peace in such circumstances is perhaps the most unexpected place, the most torturous and violent, the most senseless, cruel, and unjust.

The only place of peace is the Cross.

I can't tell you why; it's a place you'll have to arrive at yourself. But I can say this. If Christians really believe, and I mean really, that our salvation was won at a price, and that price was Jesus' own death on the Cross, then we see the greatest of all gifts, Redemption, flowing from the pain, the injustice, the most unthinkable tragedy. Does it maker it easier? I don't think so. Many atheists think that Christians just buy into the whole idea of a loving God offering his Son as some sort of mental anesthesia to numb us from the pain of reality, but for me, the reality of the Cross is far from mind-numbing, muchless a pleasantry or an idle amusement to busy myself with when the times get tough.

The Cross is where reality meets self-giving love, a gift even unto death in the face of what seems senseless and cruel. And, in time, this sacrifice and pain gives way to redemption, beauty, and love far beyond all imagining. Not always in our own time nor in the way we expect, but the Cross always bears fruit in our lives. Always. It cannot always be seen in this life, this vale of tears, but in the life that is to come we shall be known fully, as we are fully known. This is our great hope, and it is a hope which shall not disappoint.

Fr. Mychal F. Judge, OFM (May 11, 1933 - September 11, 2001) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Fr. Mike had rushed to the World Trade Center to offer assistance and give Last Rites to victims.
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer at Ground Zero
O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—

the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.

Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Peace and all good,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Of Amy Grant, Spanish Skype, and Gifts from God

Whew, Coffee Talkers!

I need to jot down a bit about the last 24-ish hours, just so I can keep it all in mind. Enjoy!

A generous friend offered for me to accompany her for an Amy Grant concert last night, and in a surprising turn of events, I was one of twelve people who got to sit in on the band's sound check, and then to meet Amy Grant and her band. Fun! Then I met a bunch of great people from a Friend's of Amy group over dinner, and then enjoyed front row seats during the concert. And I have to say, the most moving part of the evening was that is was so relational. I've always enjoyed Amy Grant's music, but I don't really consider myself a 'fan' of many people. Having met her and her band personally now, I must say that I am very impressed by Amy Grant as a person, and the time, attention, and love she clearly gives to each person she knows. I enjoyed her beautiful music and message, and overall it was a lovely evening and great experience.

Then this morning, my girls and I went down to the Cathedral of our Diocese for a World Youth Day Reunion at the Cathedral Hall. It was a lovely experience, and it was nice to be able to bring my girls, since they are still far too youthful to have attend World Youth Day itself. Both of our Bishops joined us, and we were able to communicate via Skype with our hosts from Toledo, Spain, which was wonderful! We had developed such a feeling of familial closeness and fraternal affection for our parish hosts and hosting families that I think we experienced a feeling of true reunion with them, as well, through our brief call (chaotic though it was with the large crowd assembled on our end).

In trying to help set up the Skype call, I had sent an e-mail earlier in the week to a few of our hosts, expressing our gratitude to them and letting them know of our interest in communicating with them today during our reunion. Because my Spanish skills leave something to be desired, I had typed up my message in English and put it into Google translate for the Spanish version. Before mentioning our desire to communicate with Skype, I specifically wanted to thank our hosts and to tell them that we hoped we could someday return their kindness by hosting them in California. However, I realized (after sending the message, of course) that I had typed in 'hose' instead of 'host' in English, for which the translator offered its best Spanish rendering. Thus, I basically offered to return the favor that our hosts had so graciously extended to us by greeting them in California with a hose. Nice. And then, to top it off, the e-mail address that I had for the priest turned out to be one letter off, so I realized that now I was even offering to hose off international strangers upon their first visit to California, as well. I cried from laughing so hard at my ridiculous mistake, and tried to correct my errors in a follow-up message.

But today was lovely -- we were able to arrange the Skype call, despite my numerous communication mishaps, and this afternoon I received this kind and amusing e-mail from one of our wonderful hosts:
"Hello our dear friends, thank you very much for your interest in Skypeing with us. When we read your first email, we were impressed by what we thought was an ancestral good practice in the border of the Californian desert: to welcome people you appreciate with a generous hose of water, that precious element essential for life. It is like saying: OK, I wish you a good and hydrated life. It is beautiful. Thank you very much, we were also crying from laughing so hard, and still we are, whenever we imagine the scene."
Ahh, what a blessing to have made such kind and gracious friends, and with a sense of humor, as well!

I also received a little award at today's reunion, present by our Bishops, for leadership during World Youth Day. That was a pleasant surprise! I have to say, I used to be sort of an award-a-holic, winning nearly every award and scholarship known to man back in my high school/early college days, and placing much more importance on such things than I should have. As always, God and life always have their way of revealing to us the truth about ourselves, and so I'm happy to have been broken from the fixation on recognition. (Well, I'm happy for it now, although humility is oftentimes acquired through the acceptance of humiliations, which are never occasions of happiness at the time.) Still, it was an honor to have received the certificate, and in my heart I received it on behalf of all the good people who sent us to World Youth Day through financial and prayer support, and for all the people who personally helped me through those couple hellish (or purgative, at the least) years of life that, thanks be to God, have already borne many fruits of grace and redemption, so much so that to my surprise I recently led this international pilgrimage group to World Youth Day. In all things, Deo gratias.

My girls and I came home for a bit, and then went to a going away party for one of our pilgrimage group members who is college-bound. God-speed, Alex, y vaya con Dios! Use your voice, and keep the faith!

And now that the day of partying has ceased, it is time for sleep!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where in the World is Coffee Talking Leslie?

Hello, again, my dear Coffee Talk friends!

On the small chance that any of you have been wondering if I've completely dropped off the face of the Coffee Talk earth, I just wanted to give a brief check-in and let you know that all is well, and that I'm hoping to return to regular blogging soon and very soon! I've not been writing much for a few reasons, the top among them being:
  1. I've been busy getting back into the swing of 'normal' life (whatever that means) since returning from World Youth Day;
  2. I'd gotten rather used to not having computer and internet access in Spain, and I must admit that I rather enjoyed the experience!
  3. Writing at night is not as ideal as it used to be, as my girls and I rise much earlier than we did in the pre-Spain days, as well, so I may need to find a better time of day to write; and
  4. I've realized that, while I'm never one to lack something to say (for better or worse), if I want to say something worthwhile or meaningful, I need some time to think, pray, and process before I can do that. 
And so much was packed into those couple weeks of World Youth Day that I'm still unpacking the experience, to be honest. I blogged on my first day's journal, but even typing in what I'd already written felt a bit empty, as I still needed more time to think about the significance of what I experienced. I mean, it's easy enough to say what I did at World Youth Day, but I think it's more important to reflect on who I was at World Youth Day, and who I'm called to become in light of that journey of faith. So if you're willing to hang on for a bit more, just know that, Lord willing, I'll be back soon and with something more important to tell you than the fact that there's a Burger King in Avila. (Do you think St. Teresa ever ate there?)

I'm really touched to see how many of you have been coming to Coffee Talk and reading my posts even while I've been away, and from all over the world, too! I don't know who you are, but I'm grateful for your stopping by, and for any of you who have kept me in thought and prayer. Be assured of my prayers for you, as well!

Peace and all good,