Saturday, May 23, 2020

Looking for God in a Pandemic

Never before has our family life more closely resembled the life of a monastery than in these past couple of months. I've always said that there was something to the stability and rhythm of family life that resembled monastic life, but with the local stay-at-home order, I finally experienced another aspect of monastic life - being hidden away from the world.

At the height of the pandemic in our area, I went long stretches without even leaving our property. Eventually, I had to venture out for various reasons, and now the stay-at-home order has been lifted (although, our family is still basically staying at home). Thankfully, our Archdiocese is one of those that didn't close churches, but left at least some of them open for private prayer (including our parish, which is a short walk from our house) and continued to offer Confession. And, having priest friends, we even got to have the occasional opportunity to assist at the private Mass of a priest. We even had one of our favorites visit our Gabriel's grave with us, on his fourth birthday. 

Public Masses have resumed here, but the Sunday obligation dispensation remains, and we're planning on doing our weekly Mass in shifts, at an early morning daily Mass. Our church is little, and even with social distancing, it's too many people in too small of a space for comfort.

Anyway, the point that I'm trying to get at is this - life hasn't been normal. And, did I mention that all the seminarians were sent back to their home dioceses and we weren't even able to say good-bye?

We are healthy. We are in a safe home. We both can work from home and are still receiving paychecks. We already homeschool. And, although we have been somewhat isolated, we have had contact with the few people in our lives that are like family (as well as with the family that lives far away).

So, what reason do we have to complain, right?

Here's the thing that I would tell you, if you were my son or daughter - there is a difference between complaining and between acknowledging when something is just plain hard and you are just plain tired. There are aspects of our family life and our personal suffering that I'm not going to share online. I'm sure that you can say the same. I have yet to meet someone who, upon further investigation, did not turn out to be carrying a heavier cross than I initially suspected.

There is no point in comparing sufferings. Everyone in the whole world is suffering in some way right now. Are some of those sufferings objectively greater than others? Certainly. But I want you to know this - your suffering, no matter how little or big it seems, still matters.

In fact - it matters to Him. It matters to God.

In my own prayer these days, that is something that has surprised me and given me so much consolation. My own private sufferings are not on the scale of the sufferings of so many right now - but they matter to God.

In fact, this is a lesson that I have learned from "contemplation" in my own little domestic monastery.

I have three living children, and their ages range from almost 3 to 9 1/2. Their sufferings and struggles are dramatically different from one child to the next. Some of their sufferings are actually big ones, and some of them ridiculously little. But not getting the juice that she desperately wanted feels like a great suffering to my toddler.  When she sobs, I don't dismiss her with frustration saying, "That's nothing! Don't you see what your big sister is dealing with right now??"

Because, to her...that is a big suffering. It won't still be one when she is 9. But at 2 years old, it is.

The ups and downs of my daughters' lives matter so much to me. I can't compare their sufferings or strengths to each others. What they need from me and their daddy is the reassurance that we see them, we love them, and their suffering matters to us.

And so it is with God, during this pandemic.

I don't understand why this had to happen. But I do know this - God is loving us through this pandemic, and He holds our sufferings close, the way that I hold my daughters' (although more perfectly, because I am certainly not divine).

At some point during the early days of this pandemic, it occurred to me - when Jesus was dying on the cross, bearing the full weight of all the sin and suffering that had ever and would ever occur in the world...He knew about this pandemic. He knew about the suffering that would grip our world in 2020. And He held our sufferings in His heart, as He suffered. They all mattered to Him - everything from the greatest of our sufferings to the least.

You matter to Him. Your little domestic monastery matters to Him. What happens there does not go unseen by Him. He sees it all.

I don't understand the magnitude of the suffering of the world right now, but I know this - in the moments of silence (and noisiness!) in this little domestic monastery, I've realized that He is here.

He is with you, too.

New Book in The Catholic Field Guide series!!

This one has been in the making forever but now it's finally here. Meet the newest member of The Catholic Field Guide series!!

My First Book of Catholic Pictures - Seek and Find was inspired by my middle daughter and her love of "seek and find" books. It's a fun way to help littler kids engage with the vocabulary of the Church!

You can purchase it here or watch the video introduction to it here. You can find the rest of the series and my other books right here.

Our Archdiocese recently resumed public Masses, but if you're finding yourself still tuning in to the livestream variety and are trying to explain spiritual communion to your little ones, you might like to check out this video:

 It will eventually be in book form, but I'm redoing the illustrations (see a sneak peak below). 

Multiple other book projects in the works, too, because #stayathome . I hope that you're all staying healthy!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Why I Believe It's #notasymbol

A few weeks ago, a survey of US Catholics was released. According to the survey, only one third of all Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

This simply breaks my heart. I cannot imagine life without Him.

I've studied theology (at both the college and graduate levels). I can explain to you the theology of the Eucharist, which is rich and beautiful. I can explain to you how, because of the promise of Christ at the Last Supper, we can believe that the bread truly becomes His Body and the wine His Blood. I can explain to you how the sacrifice offered at Mass is not a new sacrifice - it simply makes present again the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I can explain to you how, when we are at Mass, it is as if we are kneeling at the foot of the cross being overwhelmed with the love of Christ. I can tell you about how all the saints and angels are present at every Mass (including our loved ones who have died if they have already made it to heaven!). I can explain to you how, in the mystical union we experience with Christ in the Eucharist, we get an actual taste of heaven - how even if we feel nothing, we are being changed and prepared for our final home, each time we receive Him. 

But I want you to know something else. I want you to know that, if you take the time to be with Him in the Eucharist - at Mass, at adoration, in the silence of an empty church - He will change you. The vast majority of the time that I go to Mass, I feel nothing. But still, there is a relationship. In some ways, it is like marriage. So many days, you don't feel the way you felt when you were newly dating, but with each day, the relationship and love grows deeper than you ever thought possible. 

I have seen this happen, so many times, with children. I have watched each of our toddlers be drawn to the tabernacle. I have watched them blow their little kisses. I've also worked with children with special needs. I've taken kids to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist week after week, and witnessed their silence and joy when they finally receive Him. (I'll never forget a young man I prepared for First Communion who had very significant mental and physical disabilities, and who was disgusted by the taste of the unconsecrated host. When he received First Communion, there was no disgust on his face - just pure joy.) 

But I have also experienced it in my own life. I have brought things to Jesus in the Eucharist that I thought were hopeless - and I have seen how He has worked in my life. I have seen how He has given me the strength to face whatever suffering is asked of me. I've seen how He has given me the grace to get through each day. 

 I wouldn't want to live in a world without the Eucharist. I don't think I could.

But, in the course of my life, I have had moments of doubt. It is in those moments that I look to the witness of others. When we visited Italy, and the catacombs, and the tombs of martyrs, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that everything was real. Everything I believed. It was worth living for. It was worth dying for. 

And then, there are our seminarian and priest friends. 

They have, literally, given their lives over to the service of Christ in the Eucharist. They have laid down their lives for the Eucharist. And, if called to do so, the men I know would be willing to die for that belief. 

Before Gabriel, I had known people who had died. I had had people in my extended family die. But I had never had a person in my immediate family die. Before Gabriel, Andrew and I talked about journeying to heaven together. We talked about heaven with our daughters. But after Gabriel - it was suddenly all real. We had had a member of our family who had possibly gotten to heaven already. 

There is no ache like the ache of knowing that the tiny body of your child, once safely nestled in your body, now lays in the earth. There is some consolation in seeing my living children visit his grave and, briefly, having all four of my children physically in one place. 

But there is a whole other consolation that comes from the Eucharist. If what we believe about the Eucharist is real, and if I truly believe that I can have great hope that my Gabriel is in heaven - it means that he is present at every Mass, too. It means that he (and all the saints) pray with us and for us at Mass. It means that, when I receive the Eucharist, I am not only united to Jesus, but to the whole mystical body of Christ - including Gabriel. It means that I am closer to him now than I was when he grew inside me. 

Gabriel has helped me understand and appreciate the Eucharist on a whole new level. And he has helped me to long for Christ more than ever. 

(photo credit: Lisa Johnston)

We recently were gifted a family picture, and it just so happened that Jesus had a cameo appearance in the background. I haven't been organized enough to schedule and plan a family photo session in a park or something like that, but somehow, this family picture means more to me than one like that ever could. Because of Jesus in the Eucharist, in a way - Gabriel is spiritually present in this picture too.

And, right in the center of the picture, is the tabernacle. Jesus in the Eucharist is in the heart of it all, like he is the heart of our family. 

Because truly, we couldn't live without Him.  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

On the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

I went to Mass this morning with my younger two daughters, and after Mass I was talking with our pastor and telling him how much our recent trip has changed the way that I think of St. Peter and St. Paul (and all the saints and the whole Church in general, but that's several articles and blog posts worth of reflections). Earlier this month, our youngest daughter and I had the chance to tag along with my husband on a work trip around Italy, visiting archaeological sites related to the early Church. Many of the sites we visited were in Rome/Vatican City.  

After visiting the sites where Peter and Paul walked and preached the Gospel, they are more real to me than ever before. 

Before I go any further, disclaimer...I am not an expert on Petrine and Pauline sites in Italy, but I have friends who are smarter than I am. Just about everything I'm sharing here, I learned from them. 

One of the perks of being married to a seminary professor means that there are always friends in Rome! So, special thanks to our friends Fr. Seiler (who is studying to be an apostolic nuncio...pray for him!) and Fr. Auer (who is a new, baby priest...pray for him!) who said Mass for us and showed us around St. Peter's. 

And a special thanks to our friend Paul (who is studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Omaha...pray for him!) who showed us around a million churches, including St. Paul Outside the Walls.

I have always loved St. Peter because he is so humble and he always seems to be either saying the most perfect thing or the most awkward thing. I love, love how many times Peter says something completely awkward or messes up, but keeps coming back to Jesus. I love that he is so weak, so imperfect, and yet chosen by Christ to be the first leader of the Church on earth. 

When you stand in St. Peter's square, it feels surreal. How many times have you seen this view on TV or on the internet? 

But back in the day, this square wasn't a beautiful, peaceful place that pointed people to heaven. It was outside of the city walls of Rome, across the Tiber River. It was where you took people to be buried or executed. It was a cemetery. In the very center of the square is an obelisk. It is stark and made of concrete, and although it has been moved slightly (it's original location is by one of the gates that leads into Vatican City proper) it is the exact same obelisk that would have been in Peter's line of sight when he was being crucified. Tradition holds that this very obelisk may have been the very last thing that Peter saw, when he was giving up his life for Christ. 

The inside of St. Peter's overwhelms the senses. Because it is in the Baroque style, great care was taken to make even the most enormous features seem smaller than they are. It was designed to make you feel as if heaven had come to earth. 

But more stunning than anything else in St. Peter's is a humble grave, situated under the main altar. Still humble, still unexpected, Peter's simplicity is what makes him so remarkable.

It is really hard to capture what Peter's grave looks like (you aren't allowed to take pictures down in the crypt and you can't descend the stairs that are in front of the altar). Standing there took my breath away. That altar, this is the center of the Church. If you dropped a pin from the center of the dome, it would fall directly on Peter's grave. Buried here by fellow Christians after his death, they continued to mark his tomb for years. Tradition maintained the location of Peter's bones (and archaeology and DNA testing later confirmed it). It is a simple stone grave, marked with red stripe of paint. 

But the Church and the church are literally built on the rock of St. Peter.  

I stood there, gazing down at his grave, for the longest time. I prayed fervently for a special intention that had been placed on my heart. And I pondered that there, right before me, lay the bones of Peter. One of Jesus's best friends and closest companions, a simple fisherman from Galilee was buried right there. Never could he have imagined that his life would end violently, outside the walls of Rome. Neither could he have imagined the foundation his faith in Christ would lay for millions and billions of Christians. 

Christ chose this humble, ordinary man. And looking at his grave, I realized that he was real. It was all real. 

Another story of pious tradition, surrounding the life of St. Peter is the "Quo Vadis" story. In the height of the persecution of the Christians, Peter fled Rome. He was headed away from Rome, along the Appian Way. The picture above is from the path that winds along the outer grounds of the Catacombs of San Calisto (where half a million early Christians were buried). As you walk through the fields above the catacombs, you see a wall bordering the land. That wall runs along the ancient Appian Way, the road leading out of Rome. At the beginning of the road is the Church of the Quo Vadis. 

At that spot, the fleeing Peter encountered Christ, headed back toward Rome. Peter asked him, "Quo vadis?" Which means, "Where are you going?" And Christ replied, "I am going to Rome, to be crucified again." Peter realized that Christ was asking him to return to Rome, to suffer for Him. 

It is an ordinary road. Whether or not the story is true or legend we don't know, but Peter likely did walk on this road, and Christ may have appeared to him. This, too, was part of the story of the fisherman from Galilee. 

And then, there's Paul. 

St. Paul's epistles are some of my favorite books in the Bible. His reflections on his weakness and need for Christ's grace (and deep awareness of how Christ worked through his weakness) have been so formative for my own faith journey. Paul, too, found himself in a place that he never imagined. 

One of the last churches that we visited in Italy was St. Paul Outside the Walls. It is one of the papal basilicas. St. Paul wasn't killed on this spot, just buried here. He was beheaded in a swamp not far from here.

This church is an old one (it has mosaics dating back to the patristic period, which is why we were visiting it) but it is actually built on the foundations of an even older church. And, like in St. Peter's, this church was built up around the bones of a saint. Under the main altar is the grave of St. Paul. Like Peter's grave, it is a simple stone grave.

Over the altar is a triumphal arch. (This is the mosaic that dates back to the period of the early Church - fourth or fifth century, I think?) The triumphal arch was an architectural feature that was used by the Romans, but this one wasn't dedicated to a Roman Emperor. Instead, it featured Christ, surrounded by the four evangelists (the symbols for the evangelists are a common appearance in these early mosaics) and the saints and angels. And, as a reminder of what Christ has triumphed over, Paul's grave is right under this triumphal arch. Our friend Paul highlighted this fact for us, especially. "You see the triumphal arch. But what is the triumph? 'Oh, death, where is your victory? Oh, death, where is your sting??'" (He read a passage from the epistles for us as we stood gazing down at the tomb of St. Paul, and that moment sealed for me the meaning of that verse.) St. Paul's martyrdom was a victory, for Christ has conquered death. So aware of that were the early Christians, that they placed a symbol of triumph over the bones of Paul. 

(If you look through the grillwork, beyond the brick, you can see the white stone of St. Paul's grave.)

Lost in the sacrifices and sufferings of daily life, it is so easy to look at the lives of the saints and forget that they are real. But they are. They're real. It's all real. 

They aren't just stories. They aren't imaginary people. It isn't just a nice story, meant to make us feel good. The faith is everything. It is worth dying for. It is worth living for. And the sacrifices and sufferings that we are invited to bear, as we follow Christ - they are worth it. It is all worth it. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Becoming a Spiritual Mother (At Any Age)

Last week, I finished up my second chasuble, for another good friend who was about to be ordained. As I was hanging it up to take a picture, I was struck by it's placement...right next to the beautiful little quote a best friend gave me after Gabriel died. (You can order one from Katrina here.)

Back when I was discerning my vocation, I remember bargaining with God. I felt the call to marriage, but I was afraid that it wouldn't be a holy enough vocation. (Which I laugh at now. I can't imagine any other vocation capable of reminding me of my weaknesses and need for God's grace the way this one does, while simultaneously giving me a daily glimpse of God's love for me.) I knelt before the tabernacle, praying, "Okay, God, you can call me to marriage...but can you give me a son? And can he be called to be a priest?" Of course, God's plan for Gabriel was very different than mine.

But my motherhood of Gabriel trained my heart in a way that it wouldn't have been otherwise. Typically, a mother has to say a sort of good-bye to her grown children, allowing them to fly from the nest. But I had to say good-bye to Gabriel after only a few weeks with him. I wasn't ready. And I haven't stopped loving him, not for one minute. I have prayed ceaselessly that he may receive the benefits of Baptism, even though he was only given a conditional baptism, and God has consoled me by answering many of the intentions I entrust to my little guy. I am fully convinced that he is part of God's plan, and that my little love is playing a role in the Church that I won't fully understand in this lifetime. 

What Gabriel taught me was how to love deeply while also being willing to let go. He taught me that love is worth suffering. Walking away from his grave was and is one of the hardest things I have to do. I hate that his tiny little body is in a casket, buried deep in the ground. I hate that he isn't in my arms, or running around with his pack of sisters. But I'm willing to continue loving him, even though it's painful. I am willing to continue to mother him through my prayers, even if I don't get to enjoy the benefit of seeing him grow. He is a gift, and he has been more than worth the pain. 

It was this love of Gabriel that prepared me for spiritual motherhood to priests and seminarians. 

Because if I'm honest, being involved with the seminary the way our family is is both a source of joy and ongoing loss. I sometimes compare spiritual motherhood to a seminarian to mothering a child in utero. Not every one of them makes it to ordination. Many discern out of seminary before then. I still care for those guys and pray for them, and I know that God has a plan for them. (I have too many friends married to former seminarians to believe otherwise!) But the end of the year rounds of emails, sharing who is leaving the seminary, can be emotionally hard. Even if you can see God at work in their lives, it is hard to entrust them to God and know that they will no longer be a part of your life in the same way. 

Ordination season is also at the end of the year. There is such tremendous joy, in knowing that a man has discerned the vocation to priesthood and will now be living it out. I can't begin to put into words the joy that is on the face of a new priest. It is a glimpse of heaven. I also can't begin to describe the joy of getting to be present at that ordination, and to witness the birth of a new baby priest. There is so much joy, and I can't believe that I get to experience it with them. 

But it is also painful. It is so painful. This man, who you have known and come to love over the course of years, is flying the nest of the seminary. A priest belongs to everyone and no one. You can't cling to friendship with a priest, the way you would to friendship with a lay person. He belongs to all. And you have to let go. You just have to. But you also have to not stop loving him. Because baby priests need even more prayers than seminarians. Especially in our current culture, it is an incredibly difficult vocation, with guaranteed persecution in one form or another. That persecution will probably only get worse, as these young priests age.  

Andrew has been teaching at the seminary for five years this fall. In the last half decade, I felt an ever growing call to spiritual motherhood. But I have also felt a strong call to share this vocation with others. A good friend of mine introduced me to spiritual motherhood of priests, and it's become clearly and clearer to me that this is a vocation that the Church needs...and it can only be filled by women. It is our opportunity to assist Mary, the Blessed Mother, in her great work for the Church.

After this most recent ordination, I quietly went over to my friend's family pew. He had asked me if I could cut the threads on the diaconate stole that I had sewn for him, so that it could be opened into a priest stole and worn for his first blessings. As I sat quietly trimming the threads, his mother caught my eye. She leaned over and asked, "Did you sew that for him?" I told her I did, and she reached out and gently cupped my cheek with her hand. She beamed, and said with deep feeling, "Thank you!" 

I was praying with that moment later, and reflecting on the interactions I had seen between this new priest and his mother. At the end of a priest's first Mass,  he presents his mother with the cloth that was used to wipe the Chrism oil from his newly ordained hands. Since Gabriel's death, that moment always gives me a pang in my heart. Gabriel will never do that. Mothers of priests have a special role in their son's life, and it is a special vocation. It also isn't my vocation (at least not that I know of...unless we are someday blessed with another son). But from that moment that my priest friend's mother showed me that gratitude and tenderness, I realized something. Her tenderness is the same tenderness that Mary shows to all spiritual mothers. Mary is the mother of the true priest, Christ. She is also a mother to all priests, in a way that I never can be. But she invites other women to join her in that work. If you are a woman reading this, she is inviting you.

I am no one special. I am an ordinary Catholic woman. But I have been given an extraordinary opportunity, to glimpse into the hearts of so many seminarians and priests and to be able to call them friends. Oh, friends...I wish you knew them. They are ordinary men with an extraordinary love for Christ and His Church. Their "yes" to their vocation strengthens me in my own vocation. 

And you can be a spiritual mother to them, too, no matter how old or young you are. 

Last year, my oldest daughter's best seminarian friend was ordained a priest. It was hard for her to say good-bye to him. We've seen him since then, but his home diocese is pretty far from ours, and so we weren't sure when we would see him again. In her sadness, I encouraged her to adopt him as her spiritual son. And she did, much to his delight. 

Our first ordination of this season was a diaconate ordination near our diocese. My oldest daughter's "spiritual son" was going to be one of the concelebrants, and she eagerly watched for him in the opening procession. They both were so happy to see each other. Not to be outdone by her big sister, my middle daughter decided that she wanted a spiritual son, too. One of her favorite seminarians was getting ordained a transitional deacon at this Mass, and after hearing her sister's delight over her spiritual son, my middle daughter declared, "Well, Michael is my spiritual son!" Then, she decided she couldn't stop there. Two more of our seminarian friends were also getting ordained to the transitional diaconate at this Mass, and I asked her if Dominic and the other Michael were her spiritual sons, too. "Yes!" she declared. "They are my spiritual sons, too!"

The conversation continued, and this dear little girl went on to declare that, in fact, all of the men up there getting ordained (even the ones she didn't know) were her spiritual sons. 

"They are all my spiritual sons. All the priests and seminarians in the whole world!" I asked her how many spiritual sons she had. "I have a thousand spiritual sons!!!" Also included is our pastor (who is much beloved by her), our auxiliary bishop (who baptized her and who she refers to as "her guy" as a result), the rector of the seminary, her favorite priest from Omaha, and many, many others. 

She and her sister inspire me. Of course, with their patron saints, I shouldn't be surprised. 

Our oldest is named for St. Therese of Lisieux, who had a deep love for priests, and was a devoted spiritual mother to them. Our second daughter is named after Mary, who is the Mother of Priests. I am not in the least surprised that these loving girls of mine (both who are very possessive of their patron saints) would want to take up this mantle of spiritual motherhood. 

But, you may wonder, what does spiritual motherhood look like if you aren't in close contact with priests and seminarians? What does it look like for a grown woman vs. a little girl?

In some cases, it looks like friendship. Every church has at least one priest associated with them, so every Catholic woman knows at least one priest. Can you and your family befriend him? Have him over for dinner? Send him a card on Father's Day? Smile at him and greet him every Sunday after Mass? Do it.

But whether you have priest friends or not, spiritual motherhood is much more than that. It is about prayer and sacrifice. 

This is possible for even little ones. My oldest hates practicing violin, so this Lent she offered that up for her spiritual son. Whenever my second daughter is frustrated by something out of her control, or bored, and tired of waiting, I try to encourage her, "You can offer that for your spiritual sons." (It doesn't always work, because she's five years old, but it's still planting a seed. It is so much easier to offer up suffering or sacrifices for someone you love than it is to do it in the abstract.) And I try to do the same. On my roughest days, whenever I have to do something I'd rather not or am battling depression or anxiety, I remind myself, "It's ok. This is your sacrifice."  I was especially encouraged by my friend's first Mass, when he invited us to unite all of our sacrifices with the one he was offering on the altar. 

So pick a priest or two (even if it isn't someone you know personally...sometimes I intentionally choose to pray for a priest who I disagree with!). And hold him in your heart and your prayers. Offer up daily little sacrifices of love for him. It won't make the suffering or sacrifices you face not painful, but it will imbue even little moments of sacrifice with love. 

Our priests need this. They need our love and prayers so badly. And they each need an army of little spiritual mothers who tuck them deeply into their hearts and prayers. 

And, of course, if the priest or seminarian you've adopted as a spiritual son is your friend, let him know that you are praying for him. It is such an encouragement to them. 

I don't know what the short term solutions are for the Church, but I do know this - there is an army of men laying down their lives for Christ and his Church. They aren't conquering by clericalism and pride and power. They are conquering with countless quiet, unknown sacrifices and prayers offered for the sake of love for God and His people. They grow in number by the year. And they will save the Church, with the help of our love and prayers. There is hope, so much hope, for the Church. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Celebrating Holy Week (as a Family)...

"Just over three years ago, on Palm Sunday, we found out that we were expecting our third child. We were overjoyed. Our secondary infertility had been particularly challenging that time around, and we had long been hoping and praying for this little child. A positive pregnancy test has always been a cause for gratitude for me (having faced secondary infertility twice), but the joy I felt at this one was different. It had just been so long, so very, very long, since we had been able to conceive. I was crying happy tears as I told my husband, and he and I laughed with delight.
That Holy Week was tinged with so much hope and joy. As I participated in the liturgies of the Triduum, I was mindful of the little child that I carried. I dreamed of having him in my arms the following Easter..."

Monday, April 8, 2019

My Sacrifice

The other day, I was talking to one of my seminarian friends about a talk he was preparing to give. He was hoping to encourage a group of young families to attempt bringing their little kids to Mass more, and he was wondering if I had any ideas. But then, he told me the central theme that HE had come up with, and it stuck with me.

He was reflecting on the idea of sacrifice at Mass - that the priest is offering the sacrifice of the Mass, but he doesn't just call it his sacrifice. He refers to the sacrifice as "my sacrifice and yours." My friend was saying that, in a very real way, our sacrifices we bring to Mass (and for those with small children or infertility Mass can be very difficult to attend, although for different reasons). He was mainly talking about families with small children, but I can think of others who also sacrifice much to be present at Mass. I know from my own brief experience of secondary infertility how painful attending a church filled with babies can be. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been without children in my arms.

Likewise, those suffering from grief may struggle to make it through Mass without crying. Some of those griefs are visible, but some - like miscarriage - aren't. My parish actually listed Gabriel as one of the members of the parish who died that year, and just that recognition helped...but most people in our church had no idea that we were grieving the loss of a child. That's just the nature of miscarriage in our society.

My hyperemesis gravidarum gave me a tiny glimpse into the physical suffering of so many who are ill and/or elderly at Mass. For many, just the physical endurance needed to attend Mass makes it a tremendous sacrifice.

These days, though, I'm mostly in the midst of  the "taking care of multiple small children at Mass" version of sacrifice. Having struggled to conceive AND having lost one, I don't take these little ones for granted. But, despite my gratitude for them, it still is hard work taking care of them. Our youngest is a toddler and she is the busiest person I have ever met. Mass is no exception.

Lately, I've been feeling God nudging me to be open to the sacrifices HE IS ASKING for, rather than stubbornly trying to stick to my own idea of perfection. After talking to my friend last week (and going to Confession on Saturday for an extra booster shot of grace) my heart was open to this idea of joining my sacrifice with the priest's.

It completely changed my experience of Mass.

When everything began to unravel, when I spent almost the entire Mass in the back of church or the vestibule or chasing the toddler down the aisle (in her defense, I asked her if she wanted to go up to see Jesus and the priest and she figured there was no time like the present) - I just reminded myself, "This is my sacrifice." I gazed at the priest elevating the host and realized...he and I weren't doing parallel things. My sacrifice was joined to the one on the altar.

And it certainly helped when my toddler dropped everything she was doing, and ran over to gaze at Jesus as the bells of consecration were rung.

The fact that she pointed at Him and loudly shouted, "Mary! Mary!" is irrelevant. Baby steps...

(By the way, if you're looking for Easter basket stuffers, it isn't too late to grab a copy of one of my new books!! These two also have read aloud videos on YouTube!

To purchase the books click here.

To watch the read aloud videos with your kids:

Holy Week for Children - A Guide to the Liturgies

Take Up Your Cross (a super short version of the Stations of the Cross!!!)