Three visits

Severe weather had been predicted in the Coastal Bend and the surrounding area, so we chose to get ahead of the deluge.  Instead of driving to Cotulla the morning of the Texas Tropical Trail monthly partner event, we left home mid-morning the day before.  And, sure, we experienced rain— intermittent water bursts, showers, and the cat-and-dog variety— but the sun was its usual bright self when we arrived.

June 18, 2018

Settling in at the hotel Steven searched churches online.  “Sacred Heart Church has daily mass at six this evening.  You interested?”

Churches fascinate me so, naturally, I was curious.  We arrived half an hour early to take photos before Mass.  We’d been to a few churches by the same name— not that they’re anything alike— but, walking into Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Brownsville came to mind.

One woman led the rosary as others took turns introducing the decades.  Afterwards, Sister approached the ambo to tell us about the framed picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  She explained that, because Our Lady’s powerful intercessions are miraculous, the group would petition God for a permanent priest.

When the first-day novena prayers ended, people began to leave.

I approached Sister to ask about Mass, and she explained that Sacred Heart has been without a pastor for three years.  The elderly retired priest who celebrates Mass in the interim has Monday off, so daily Mass is Tuesday through Friday.

Others had comments, questions, or just wanted to bid Sister goodbye; so I turned my attention to the couple that lingered a bit on the way out.

Although they were upbeat and smiling, they were in pain.  The woman could barely move even with the use of her walker; the man seemed heavily burdened.  She had so much she wanted to do, she said, but her legs were a serious impediment.  He simply nodded as he listened to our chatter.  God, faith, crosses in life— I sensed the struggles.  Yet they were faithful.  And hopeful. 

For whatever reason God had brought us together that evening.  Some longed to believe, to belong, to touch the hem of Jesus to be healed, while others were there to console, to encourage, to simply be whatever God intended.  And, even if ever so briefly, we connected as lifelong friends, baring our true selves among kindred spirits.

Oh, Cotulla.  Your people endeared themselves to me so easily.  How I longed to stay!

            

            

            

            

            

   

June 19, 2018

         

           

            

June 26, 2018

   

Prayers

Blessed St. Joseph…  I consecrate myself to your honor and give myself to you that you may always be my father, my protector, and my guide in the way of salvation.  Obtain for me great purity of heart and a fervent love of the interior life.  After your example, may I perform my actions for the greater glory of God in union with the divine heart of Jesus and the immaculate heart of Mary.  Pray for me, St. Joseph, that I may experience the peace and joy of your holy death.  Amen.

Glorious St. Anthony…  You have exercised the divine power to find what was lost.  Help me to recover the grace of God, and make me zealous in the service of God and in the practice of living the virtues.  Let me find what I have lost, thus showing me the presence of your goodness.

Anthony, glorious servant of God, famous for your merits and powerful miracles, help us to find what was lost.  Give us your help in times of temptation and enlighten our minds in searching the will of God.  Help us to find again the life of grace, which our sin destroyed, and lead us to the possession of the glory promised us by the Savior.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Recite an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Gloria.

Mother of Perpetual Help…  Grant that I may ever invoke your powerful name, the protection of the living and the salvation of the dying.  Purest Mary, let your name be ever on my lips.  Delay not, blessed lady, to rescue me whenever I call on you.

In my temptations, in my needs, I will never cease to call on you, ever repeating your sacred name, Mary, Mary.  What a consolation, what sweetness, what confidence fills my soul when I utter your sacred name or even only think of you!  I thank the Lord for having given you so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name.  But I will not be content with merely uttering your name.  Let my love for you prompt me ever to hail you, Mother of Perpetual Help.  Pray for me and grant me the favor I confidently ask of you.

Pray three Hail Mary‘s.

Our Lady of Guadalupe…  Dear mother, we love you.  We thank you for your promise to help us in our need.  We trust in your love that dries our tears and comforts us.  Teach us to find our peace in your son, Jesus, and bless us every day of our lives.  Help us to build a shrine in our hearts.  Make it as beautiful as the one built for you on the mount of Tepeyac, a shrine full of trust, hope, and love of Jesus growing stronger each day.

Mary, you have chosen to remain with us by giving us your most wonderful and holy self-image on Juan Diego’s cloak.  May we feel your loving presence as we look upon your face.  Like Juan, give us the courage to bring your message of hope to everyone.  You are our mother and our inspiration.  Hear our prayers and answer us.  Amen.

Our Lady of Victories…  O sweet and gentle Lady, immaculate mother of God, we beg you to be our mother now and all the days of our life.  Shield us Mother Mary with your holy mantle that nothing of the enemy could harm us.

Ask your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to spare us from any calamities that will cause our life misery.  Pray for us that we may lead a life pleasing to him and, when our end comes, present us to him [that] we may live in his kingdom forever and ever.  Amen.

Our Lady of Victories, please pray for us.

Links of interest…  Cotulla: aboutcounty seat / history / livabilityTexas Bucket List…  Feast days of Mary…  Our Lady of Perpetual Help: June 27 (more) / miraculous icon  (background) / novena (June 19) / story / who is…  Sacred Heart Church: facebookwebsite…  Texas Tropical Trail

WP posts…  Faces of Mary…  Faith and prayer…  For all time…  Heartfelt traditions…  Marian devotions…  Second looks…  Twelve and five…  Undeniable familiarity

Persistence

Driving home from Cotulla we had every intention of stopping at Hillcrest Tortillas and Bakery in Hebbronville.  We’d eaten the last of the tamales purchased mid-October; and my sweet tooth was already contemplating the prospect of empanadas, pan de nuez, or some other caloric treat.  But one does not live by bread alone!

Photo opportunity

“Do you think we can swing by Our Lady of Guadalupe first?” I asked.

We’d first visited Hebbronville with the Texas Tropical Trail group, June 16, 2009.  Then Steven and I had returned for Vaquero Fest the first Saturday in November.

After the parade we’d followed the celebration to the plaza and learned that Our Lady of Guadalupe was hosting its own festivities: a tour of the chapel; a book reading in the church basement; and, for the fortunate few like us, a tour of Scottus College.  Oh, the views from the breezeway!

Steven interrupted my thoughts.

“What if it’s locked?  It’s just past noon.  What if Mass already started?  I don’t want to get down in shorts.”

“It’ll be okay,” I said.  “We’ll stay in the back, and I’ll take photos afterwards.”

Persistence

Several cars occupied the parking area in front of Scottus College.  Mass?  A conference? 

A mom and her kids walked out to their vehicle.  Vacation Bible school?  Day care?

With my Coolpix and the Word among us in hand, we approached the church entrance and found, to our amazement, that one of the doors was wide open.

Stepping into the vestibule, we looked past the glass doors into the darkened nave.  Our persistence had paid off.  We had the church all to ourselves!

            

                        

                

                        

                        

                        

                  

                        

         

                  

            

                

Prayers

Blessed Mother, queen of peace…  Ever blessed and immaculate Mary, you are the heavenly patroness of our country.  In your generous kindness, we beg you to obtain for us a more perfect union, domestic tranquility, justice for all our citizens, and the blessings of peace and prosperity for us and our descendants.  Help us view all the people of this world as children of God and as our brothers and sisters.  [Help us] to seek just and peaceful means to redress even the most grievous wrongs done against us.  Amen.

Devotion to St. Francis…  Beloved St. Francis, gentle and poor, your obedience to God and your simple, deep love for all God’s creatures led you to the heights of heavenly perfection and turned many hearts to follow God’s will.  Pray for us [and for] the many who come here searching for peace.  Intercede for us as we come before the Lord with our special requests.  Blessed saint of God, from your throne among the hosts of heaven, present our petitions before our faithful Lord.  May your prayers on our behalf be heard and may God grant us the grace to lead good and faithful lives.  Amen.  St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Meditation…  Lord God, you watch over us every moment of the day, even when we are not thinking of you.  Help us turn to you from time to time as we pause in our work.  Let us not forget who you are, who we are, why we are here and that we are all, however slowly, returning to you who made us for yourself.  Please teach us how to pray even when words won’t come, when our spirits are heavy, when our minds are tired.  By the merits of Christ, our savior who knew times of tiredness and lonesomeness, we ask your aid.  Amen.

Contact information

The prayers above are just three of fourteen featured in Prayers for peace (B-140) from Franciscan Mission Associates, P.O. Box 598, Mt. Vernon, NY 10551-0598.

        

August 11, 2018

“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart” (St. Francis of Assisi).

Links of interest…  Hillcrest Tortillas, Inc: Authentic Texas (pp. 52-53) / monthly partner event (Sept 2014) / reviews…  Let prayer bring peace to your soul…  Our Lady of Guadalupe Church & Scottus College (more)… Our Lady: mother / patroness / storytilma…  Persistence: Francisco Joaquin…  Sacred Heart of Jesus…  St. Anthony: traditions & miraclesrelic…  St. Francis: about / biography / national shrine…  St. Isidore: farmer (more) / feast / litany novena / preserving our inheritance of faith / printable prayer / quotes…  Texas Tropical Trail

WP posts…  Franciscan experience…  Franciscan treasures…  Grapes of generosity…  Historic nuggets…  Honoring Joselito…  St. Anthony…  Vaquero Fest Saturday

Lebh Shomea

On May seventeenth the 150th Texas Tropical Trail monthly partner event was celebrated at Lebh Shomea, the house of prayer at La Parra Ranchin Sarita, TX.

With great excitement we toured the original Big House, a wood structure that now belongs to the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and the Blessed Sacrament; the Big House, a stucco structure which took five years to complete; and the Sacred Heart Chapel, flanked on the right and on the left by family cemeteries, the bigger of which includes a Lourdes grotto “in loving memory of John G. Kenedy, 1932” (Plaque).

Still, what Steven and I enjoyed most was our Tuesday through Thursday stay at the Zechariah and Elizabeth hermitage, which included daily Mass, meals, walks, afternoon visits to the main chapel, and nature’s sights and sounds at La Parra’s Listening Heart.

            

           

            

            

            

            

            

            

            

            

           

            

            

            

      

Handouts

                  

            

           

Sign at the Kenedy Ranch Museum – Sarita, TX

Links of interest…  Be quiet: What do you do on a silent retreat (more)…  Elizabeth & Zechariah: about / biographyelder patrons of patience & praise / Jesus’s familial lineMary’s relatives / saints…  Five ways to increase patience…  If you love me you will do my will (prologue)…  Interior life: How to be one through contemplative prayer…  Jesus found time for solitude & prayer…  Kenedy County’s celestial battle / Ranch Museum (actual site)…  La Parra Ranch cemetery…  Lebh Shomea (anecdote – facebook – spiritual renewal – story)…  Living Faith: Silence & solitude…  Modern-day hermits: Answering the call to solitude, prayer…  Petra Kenedy: aboutlegacy / profile…  Prayer of the heart: Solitude & community…  Practice of contemplative prayer…  Sarita Kenedy East (foundation)…  Sarita’s secret…  Sit down & be quiet: How to practice contemplative meditation…  Solitude…  Texas Tropical Trail Regionfacebook / map / Tour Texas (attractions) / The Tropical Traveler (blog)…  Why & how to make a spiritual retreat

WP posts…  Angels keeping watch…  Beautiful sacred space…  Building community…  Father’s guided tour…  Father now retired…  Heart of hearts…  Home again…  Memory lane…  Promise of hope…  A real church…  Soulful

St. Jude chapel

Steven and I recently spent several days near downtown Dallas, so we chose a lovely storefront chapel— St. Jude’s— for Saturday evening Mass at four o’clock.  A delightful experience, we were greeted not as travelers, but as close friends dropping by for warmth and conversation on a very cold, misty afternoon.

            

            

            

           

            

    

                

                

          

      

Prayers

May Jesus comfort you in all your afflictions.  May he sustain you in dangers, watch over you always with his grace, and indicate the safe path that leads to eternal salvation.  And may he render you always dearer to his divine heart and always more worthy of paradise.  Amen (St. Pio).

Most holy apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, place myself into your hands at this difficult time.  Help me to know that I am not alone.  Please pray for me, and ask God to send me comfort for my sorrows, bravery for my fears, and healing for my suffering.  Ask our loving God to strengthen my faith and give me the courage to accept his will for my life.  Thank you, St. Jude, for the hope you offer to all who believe in you.  Amen (Baltimore Pallottines).

O Lord, my savior, come into my heart.  Take away from me all depression and anxiety.  Lift me up into your arms.  Hold me with your empowering love and release me, Lord.  I need you more than ever, dear Lord.  Embrace me now with your all-powerful healing love.  I know we can make it together, just you and me.  Amen (Rogationist Publications, 2015).

March 2, 2018

“The Christian life is not limited to prayer, but requires an ongoing dedication and courage born of prayer” (Pope Francis).

April 9, 2018

What comes from God touches gently; comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; and leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.  And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted (Romano Guardini in Meditations on the Christ: Model of All Holiness).

Links of interest…  Dallas: downtown chapel / facebook / Mass times / parking / website…  Happy 20th anniversary, Fr. Jonathan Austin…  St. Jude: chaplet (more) / faith & intercession / in suffering & desperate times / novenas (in Spanish, too) / prayers

WP posts…  Budding relationships…  Finding St. Rita…  Forever grateful…  October novena…  Prayer power…  Revisiting St. Simon…  St. Anthony Claret…  St. Jude novena…  St. Jude shrine: ChicagoCorpus Christi…  St. Monica

Etched in time

Our first look inside San Agustin Cathedral, September 15, 2009, was made possible by the priest exiting the side door on his way to the dieciséis de septiembre celebration at the plaza across the street.  “You can visit only until the cleaning is done, but you’re welcome to return for noon Mass tomorrow if you like.”

December 18, 2017

Having waited too long, we returned to Laredo for the Texas Tropical Trail monthly partner event and, again, stayed at La Posada near the cathedral so we could finally make it to noon Mass, enjoy a good while within, and take photos to my heart’s content.

                

            

            

            

                

December 19, 2017

Walking back to the hotel from our afternoon meeting at the museum provided backside views of the cathedral.  I could hardly wait to spend time at the historic sacred space.

            

            

December 20, 2017

From the groundskeepers to the hotel workers to the people on the street by the plaza, everyone was all smiles.  Warm sunshine had overtaken the cold and the rain from previous days.  Again and again, we heard grateful expressions: “What a beautiful day!”  “We really needed this!”  “It’d been too long since we’d last seen the sun!”  “Enjoy your day!”

Churchyard observations

Steven drove us to the cathedral, since we’d agreed to leave Laredo from there for his meeting in San Benito that afternoon.  We were about ten or fifteen minutes early, so I had time to explore the churchyard and observe not just the birds, but also the people gathered about waiting for the sacristan to unlock the front doors.

That’s when I noticed a diminutive, humble man in day laborer attire.  He sat pensively, almost invisibly, clutching a small, rather worn brown paper sack by the fence under the oak tree.  His forlorn look made my heart ache!  Had he traveled far to come to church? I wondered.  Is that why he’d packed a little something to eat along the way?

God-filled moments

When the sacristan opened the cathedral’s doors, we were the first to enter.  Standing just two feet within but allowing enough space for others to walk through, I acclimated to the tiny vestibule before stepping into the nave.  And, as I turned to look back outside before the sacristan closed the door, I saw the little man with the heaviness of the world on his shoulders.

“Good morning!” I smiled.  “¡Buenos días!”

The khaki-clad man, pained to be awakened from his self-imposed (prayerful) trance, glanced at me, uttered an almost inaudible response, and shuffled head down toward the inner doors.

As I continued greeting others arriving for noon Mass, I wondered if the small man had missed his chance to work with the able-bodied day laborers awaiting rides across the street from the cathedral.  How I longed to ease his pain!  But all I could do was entrust him to God.

Jesus in repose

The cathedral was still somewhat dark as I took photos in the back of the church, but I knew my way around.  Jesus was waiting in the alcove by the confessionals on the left.  I’d photographed him previously as the baby in the glass-and-gold enclosure and also as the adult in repose on the stone slab below the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

With my third eye leading the way, my peripheral vision caught sight of someone bent ever so gently, ever so faithfully, with hands lovingly placed on Jesus’s legs and feet.  I didn’t want to move!  I didn’t want to intrude!  I’d unknowingly walked into a very private moment and didn’t know what to do.

Dear God, please, add my prayers to his.  Let me not be an impediment.

I didn’t want to disturb the person whom I sensed was quite distraught, so I took photos ever so quietly.  And, when the person sat up, I saw the little man in wrinkled clothing.

He said nothing and mostly was oblivious of me.  He hadn’t been startled, so his silence came across more as acceptance than discomfort.  Yet I’d walked into such an intimate scene that I couldn’t just ignore it.

Lowering my Coolpix for a few moments, I softly greeted the man and spoke to him in Spanish.  “Look how beautiful Jesus is with Our Lady keeping a watchful eye on him from above.  She’s never far from those she loves.”  Then, as I photographed Jesus, the downtrodden man spoke to me in littles.

I reciprocated in calm, even tones, voicing encouragement while praying within.

Dear God, please, what can I do to help?  Don’t let this moment pass without our interceding on his behalf. 

I wanted to do something for the man but had only my camera in hand.

Etched in time

Finally, Steven came into view.  With all the dignity and friendship I could muster to help the man feel valued, I introduced them to each other.  Then, as naturally as possible in English, I briefly shared the man’s story with Steven who, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, stepped away and out of sight.

Had Steven not heard the plea in my voice?  Had he not intuited my message?  I’d been mentally dialoguing in three directions, and I was concerned.  I seldom carry money, so I had no means of assisting the man— not that he’d even asked— but I wasn’t giving up!

Once our talking and my photo taking reached the perfect level of mutual trust and understanding, I stepped out of the alcove hoping to share my desire for Steven to intervene somehow and—

Surprise! 

The moment we looked at each other, Steven, trying hard to contain his emotions, extended his hand for me to take his offering.

“Thank you,” I whispered, and walked back to the disconsolate man.

Bending close I placed my hand in his, talked a little more, wished him and his family a merry Christmas, smiled, and walked away.  The man had no idea what I’d pressed into his hand, and I didn’t wait for him to find out.  But, moving about taking photos, my peripheral vision did notice that he sat gazing at both Jesus and Our Lady for a very long time before departing.

A sweet memory etched in time, God answered our heartfelt prayers that day.

           

          

         

                

               

               

                  

                  

      

   

                

                

                

               

                

                

                

         

September 15, 2009

                

Prayers from St. Augustine

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.  Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.  Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, so that I love only what is holy.  Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.  Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.  Amen.

Give me yourself, O my God; give yourself to me.  Behold I love you and, if my love is too weak a thing, grant me to love you more strongly.  I cannot measure my love to know how much it falls short of being sufficient, but let my soul hasten to your embrace and never be turned away until it is hidden in the secret shelter of your presence.  This only do I know: That it is not good for me when you are not with me, when you are only outside me.  I want you in my very self.  All the plenty in the world which is not my God is utter want.  Amen.

Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know you and desire nothing save only you.  Let me hate myself and love you.  Let me do everything for the sake of you.  Let me humble myself and exalt you.  Let me think of nothing except you.  Let me die to myself and live in you.  Let me accept whatever happens as from you.  Let me banish self and follow you and ever desire to follow you.  Let me fly from myself and take refuge in you that I may deserve to be defended by you.  Let me fear for myself, let me fear you, and let me be among those who are chosen by you.  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in you.  Let me be willing to obey for the sake of you.  Let me cling to nothing save only to you and let me be poor because of you.  Look upon me that I may love you.  Call me that I may see you and forever enjoy you.  Amen.

                       

Quotes from St. Augustine

Do you wish to rise?  Begin by descending.  You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?  Lay first the foundation of humility.

Hope has two beautiful daughters.  Their names are Anger and Courage— anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

What does love look like?  It has the hands to help others.  It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.  It has eyes to see misery and want.  It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.  That is what love looks like.

You aspire to great things?  Begin with little ones.

February 28, 2018

Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart.  You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart.  In fact, on certain occasions, you should only speak to him with your heart (St. Pio).

Links of interest…  Augustine of Hippo: apostolic letter (JPII) / architect of the Middle Agesauthor / bishop & doctor / book on prayer / commentary on the Sermon on the Mountconfessions (quotes) / doctor of grace (more) / factsfor all seasons /  memorial (Aug 28) / on the Beatitudes / prayers / philosophy / prodigal son / quotesraised to new life / seeking God / thinking faith…  dieciséis de septiembre…  Burial slab of Jesus found in Jerusalem (limestone piece of rock / uncovered)…  Laredo:  churches / La Posada Hotel / museumstours (events – heritage walking tour)…  Padre Pio’s words of faith…  San Agustin: cathedral (diocesan page – facebook – history –  Mass times) / historic district / obispo (bishop) / restoration (new renderings of project)…  TX Tropical Trail Region

WP posts…  Historic nuggets…  St. Austin Church…  St. Monica…  Sweet Jesus

Our Lady’s snow

To avoid the colder, rainier drive to church on Friday, Steven and I attended six-thirty Mass at St. Benedict’s Thursday evening.

Fr. Luis and Deacon Sanchez wore white and blue in honor of Our Lady’s feast day, and the Advent altar was simple yet elegant.  The building was somewhat cold, so everyone kept their coat on.  And some coughed in response to the incense, but everyone was focused on the special celebration.

Feeling oh-so blessed during Mass, I closed my eyes without thinking and asked special blessings for everyone during the prayers of the faithful.  They love their church so much! I thought.  Fr. Luis interacts with them so genuinely that they truly are family.

Moreover, parishioners at St. Benedict’s are among the friendliest we’ve been around.  Welcoming and inclusive, they smile when they shake hands and, after Mass, engage us in conversation; so I keep them in my thoughts and prayers between visits.

            

                

Watchfulness

After Mass, Fr. Luis cautioned everyone to be very careful exiting church.  “The steps are slippery.  We will be fixing that problem in a few weeks; but, for now, watch yourself!  And drive safely!”

I couldn’t get to the vehicle quickly enough!  Cold, wet, all I could think of was getting home.  And, sure, the possibility of snow was on my mind, but really?  That’s just wishful thinking, I told myself.  Besides, it’s not even Christmas.

Traffic was heavy for a Thursday night.  Everyone was driving too fast despite the rain, but soon enough we were home safe watching the weathercast on the news.

Our Lady’s snow

Between twelve-o-five and one a.m. I started hearing noises: some, loud on the roof; others, “ticking” sounds on the window panes.  Raindrops?  Sleet?  It’s too dark to see anything.  I may regret not having looked, but I’m off to bed.  It was one-forty-five.

Then, five minutes to nine, Steven woke me.  “It’s snowing!  I figured you’d want to see!”

Those of us familiar with Our Lady of the Snows know that the Rio Grande Valley does not have a shrine in her honor.  However, on the Blessed Mother’s very special day, we were gifted with a fantastic surprise— a miracle, really— Our Lady’s snow.

            

            

           

            

Prayers

Allow me to praise you, O most holy Virgin Mary, with my personal commitment and sacrifice.  Allow me to live, work, suffer, be consumed and die for you, just for you.  Allow me to bring the whole world to you.  Allow me to contribute to your ever-greater exaltation, to your greatest possible exaltation.  Allow me to give you such glory that no one else has ever given up to now.

Allow others to surpass me in zeal for your exaltation and me to surpass them so that, by means of such noble rivalry, your glory may increase ever more profoundly, ever more rapidly, ever more intensely as He who has exalted you so indescribably, above all other beings….  Amen.

O most Holy Virgin, immaculate in body and spirit, look kindly on me as I implore your powerful intercession.  O most Holy Mother, receive my prayers as I present them to God.  (State your petition.)  O Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, you intercede for us with your son.  O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.  Amen.

December 9, 2017

“The knowledge that God gives us of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin should cause us to glorify him eternally for this masterpiece of his omnipotence in a nature that is purely human” (St. Louise de Marillac).

Seeing how so many Christians express their affection for the Virgin Mary, surely you also feel more a part of the Church, closer to those brothers and sisters of yours.  It is like a family reunion.  Grown-up children, whom life has separated, come back to their mother for some family anniversary.  And even if they have not always got on well together, today things are different; they feel united, sharing the same affection (St. JosémarÍa Escrivá in Christ is passing by, 139).

Seek God in the depths of your pure, clean heart; in the depths of your soul when you are faithful to him.  And never lose that intimacy.

And, if ever you do not know how to speak to him or what to say, or you do not dare to look for Jesus inside yourself, turn to Mary, tota pulchra, all pure and wonderful, and tell her: Our Lady and Mother, the Lord wanted you yourself to look after God and tend him with your own hands.  Teach me, teach us all, how to treat your Son! (St. JosémarÍa Escrivá in The Forge, 84).

Links of interest…  Brownsville Herald: snow forecast / South Texas gets a rare snowfall…  Holy days of obligation are also days of opportunity…  Immaculate Conception: 8 things to know / Dec 8 (more) / feast (more – prayer) / in scripture (discussion – more) / meaning of the celebrationoctave no longer observedprayers / solemnity (more – prayer – readings) / why Catholics believe…  Our Lady of the Snows: about / Aug 5miracleshrine / story (video)…  Sabbatical for suffering with the Immaculate Conception…  St. Benedict Church: facebook / Mass times (more) / website…  St. JosémarÍa Escrivá: fifteen leadership lessonsOpus Dei…  White Christmas in Brownsville, TX (2004)…  Why Mary is patroness of the United States

WP posts…  Faces of Mary…  Fatima prayers…  Lady of sorrows…  Lingering memory…  Lourdes novenas…  Marian devotions…  Mary’s Immaculate Heart…  Mary’s seven joys…  May flowers…  Our Lady…  St. Benedict’s…  St. Mary revisited

Unbounded joy

Steven and I were Unbound (CFCA) sponsors five years before we learned that others within the Corpus Christi diocese knew about the program, too.

From: Unbound
Date: Monday, June 26, 2017 11:12 AM
Re: Unbound volunteer opportunity at St. Pius X

Dear Steven & Deli,

We will be in your area on July first and second hosting a weekend sponsorship event at St. Pius X.  Fr. Thomas Landgraff, an Unbound presenter, will be celebrating Mass and inviting parishioners to visit the sponsorship table and see folders of children, youth, and elderly friends awaiting sponsorship.

Would you be available to volunteer at the sponsorship table after one of the Masses?  It only takes about thirty minutes of your time, and we’ll make sure you’re prepared before the event.

Please reply to this email or call us to let us know you are available.

We are grateful for your continued support in creating change in our world.

Sincerely,
Maureen Ortiz
Outreach Coordinator

CFCA

We first learned about the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA) from Dotty and Loren Smeester, April 2012.  Although they’d wintered in Port Aransas the month of February most years, I’d never seen them in church until they happened to occupy the pew behind ours at nine o’clock Mass.

February 2012

I so enjoyed Loren’s singing, richly reminiscent of a cowboy on a long cattle drive, that I imagined him as a farmer or a rancher.  I complimented him as we exchanged the sign of peace and received a great big smile in return!

After Mass, Loren approached the ambo, introduced Dotty and himself, and told us about the two items— an I’m #3 card and a CD— that he felt compelled to share with our St. Joseph Church community.   He was friendly, unassuming, and faith-driven; so I couldn’t wait to hear more of his story before we left church that morning.

               

                

Invitation

Taking photos for the church blog (as usual after Mass) I had the opportunity to observe not just Loren in his interactions with Fr. Xaviour and the parishioners, but also Dotty as she very patiently waited for him to complete his mission.  They were so attuned to each other that they communicated wordlessly, effortlessly— truly a match made in heaven.

When Loren had dispensed all his wares, I approached the beautiful couple smilingly.  Steven joined in the conversation, too.  We learned that the Smeesters owned the Silver Bison Ranch in Baldwin, Wisconsin.

“Come see us when you’re in the area!” Loren insisted.  “You’re welcome anytime!”

I chuckled within because the thought, while appealing, was almost outrageous.  I’d never been up north before, and I doubted that we’d travel there just to take in a tour of the ranch and Dotty’s home cooking.  Still, I graciously accepted.

April 2012

The following month Steven was asked to attend a conference in Marinette, Wisconsin in April; so Steven made all the arrangements, allowing extra time for Dotty and Loren.

Without giving the Smeesters advance notice— in case we had a change in plans— we flew into Minneapolis, drove to Baldwin, and stopped by the family gift shop before calling Dotty and Loren for a quick “hello” and then be on our way.

Long story short, we visited their home twice— a few hours that evening and an entire day before returning to the airport to head back to Texas.  And, for reasons that I don’t recall at the moment, Loren shared the story behind the letter they’d recently received from their precious godson in Central America and very gently encouraged us to sponsor a child, too, because it was a mutually rewarding experience.

Sponsorship

When we got home days later, Steven looked into CFCA and signed us up.

Mid-May we received three packets with photos and information about our sponsored friends: two girls— the older one in Costa Rica; the younger, in Lima, Peru— and an elder, Freska, in the Philippines.

My letter-writing skills from childhood were quickly embraced; and my Spanish, though rusty, began a slow-but-steady comeback, thanks in part to the internet.  How amazing to correspond without the need of a CFCA translator!  The girls and I wrote in Spanish; Freska’s grandchildren and I, in English.  A worthy endeavor for all of us!

In 2013, an unexpected change disrupted my correspondence with the older girl when her family relocated to a country that CFCA didn’t serve.  I miss Vanessa’s long, soulful letters and often wonder how she’s doing!  Still, her photo, on display with the other two that change periodically, represents not just our hope for her well-being, but also our continued thoughts and prayers for her success.

Unbound

CFCA has since changed its name— “Unbound sums up our work in one simple and powerful word” (Website; January 2, 2014)— but all else remains the same.  Letters, drawings, cards, and updated photos, along with Unbound pamphlets and inserts, arrive at different times during the year.  And sponsors are encouraged to write (and include photos) at least twice a year, though more often is incredibly fulfilling.

July 2, 2017

Until we received Maureen’s email invitation to volunteer, we had no idea that other Unbound sponsors lived within the diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas; so imagine our surprise at being asked to assist at the weekend sponsorship event!  We were happy to attend Mass at St. Pius X, a church we visit on special occasions.  But we were especially delighted to meet Ana, a young woman who has sponsored a little girl since 2012, and Fr. Tom Landgraff, OSFS who, himself, sponsors an elder.

And the icing on the cake?

Among those we met, two families who already were part of a sponsorship program added friends.  A couple with four children in tow took home the packet of a darling little girl in a festive gold-and-green dress; and a very thoughtful woman gifted herself with the sponsorship of an elder from Mexico, an addition to her one child from before

As for Steven and me?

For months I’d wanted to grow our sponsored family, so we knew we’d be taking a packet home.  But, as usually happens, the heart always yearns for more.

Unbounded joy

As we’d spread out the packets on the table to prepare for potential sponsors (before and after the Masses), we’d been smitten by the little girl and the elder whom we later enthusiastically promoted to the two families (above) who readily accepted them.

Our thinking was to find good homes for as many children and elders as we could, so we rejoiced with each perfect match.

But what about us? I wondered when church had emptied except for us.

In that brief, quiet moment I had no idea that, even before the morning sessions had concluded, Steven had found the three remaining packets from Mexico in Fr. Tom’s box.  He hadn’t forgotten my request: “I want someone I can write to in Spanish.”

“These are all that’s left,” Steven approached with the youngsters from Merida.

“We’ll take them!” I exclaimed with unbounded joy.

I knew that the sooner I mailed my introductions, the sooner I’d receive our sponsored children’s replies.  What a promise of hope!

           

                              

                     

            

            

            

                        

                                

            

            

            

Postscript

Today, November twentieth, is Juanito’s seventh birthday.  He is the oldest of the three youngsters we began sponsoring in July.  His sister, just three years older, wrote two of the most delightful, endearing letters I’ve ever received.  Infused with love, her accounts latched onto me mind, heart, and soul.  But, October eighteenth, we received word from Unbound’s office in Kansas that the family was relocating from Merida because of the dad’s new job.  This meant Juanito’s exit from the program.

While I was ever so grateful for the family’s much-needed economic blessing, I couldn’t help but think of Hania’s colorful perspectives on her little brother and the family.  I’ll miss being part of their lives and the many adventures Hania has yet to share!  Still, as with Vanessa, Juanito’s family will remain with us through the brief but indelible memories forged in just a few months.

And, when one door closes, another opens.

While Unbound’s telephone message was terribly disheartening— and the realization of not hearing from Hania again immensely disappointing— I had to do something to honor, not mourn, the loss of Juanito and his family.  Instead of returning the phone call right away, I took a few hours to clear my thoughts… and made quite a discovery.

After visiting “Find someone to sponsor” on Unbound’s home page, I telephoned the Kansas office not only to express my gratitude for having learned about Juanito’s family through Hania’s beautiful letters, but also to discuss the sponsorship of a child in Kenya whose Mona Lisa smile tugged at my heartstrings, a five-year-old girl who, like Juanito, dreams big and loves to sing.

Prayers

Compassionate God, you have called us to act as agents of your love in our world, and blessed us with the gifts we need to fulfill that mission.  Following the example of Jesus, may we embrace our calling to be your partners in creating a world of justice and mercy.  We ask this in your holy name.  Amen (Fr. Dave Noone).

Generous God, in the Blessed Virgin Mary we see the grace of one who dedicated herself to the fulfillment of your will.  May we, like her, have the courage to let it be done to us according to your word, that we may give ourselves in loving service to our sisters and brothers in need.  We ask this in the name of your son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen (Larry Livingston).

God of open arms, thank you for welcoming us into your love and forgiveness.  Thank you for making space for us in your heart.  Give us the wisdom to see others with the same welcoming eyes through which you see them.  We desire to foster a world where everyone belongs, and we pray for your guidance.  Amen (Maureen Lunn).

Lord, we thank you for being a loving father who calls us to you no matter who we are.  The love we feel being included in your family is overwhelming.  We pray that others living on the margins of society will know how much they’re also loved, wanted, and welcomed.  Show us how we can include those around us, drawing them into your love.  Amen (Clair Paul).

O God, you are our creator.  You are good, and your mercy knows no bounds.  To you arises the praise of every creature.  O God, you have given us an inner law by which we must live.  To do your will is our task.  To follow your ways is to know peace of heart.  To you we offer our homage.  Guide us on all the paths we travel upon this earth.  Free us from all the evil tendencies which lead our hearts away from your will.  Never allow us to stray from you.  O God, judge of all humankind, help us to be included among your chosen ones on the last day.  O God, author of peace and justice, give us true joy and authentic love and a lasting solidarity among peoples.  Give us your everlasting gifts.  Amen (St. Pope John Paul II).

October 24, 2017

Pause for a moment and look around you. Simply thank God for all the gifts that you have right now, all the gifts saved from the wreck of life: the lamp that illumines this page, the chair that gives you comfort, the home that provides shelter.  That’s a good exercise of stewardship.

Thank God for the sun and stars in the sky, for the support of friends, for the opportunities of a new day, for the ability to laugh and cry.  A disciple receives everything with gratitude.  It is prayer that helps keep the heart grateful and filled with joy (Robert F. Morneau in Living Prayer: A Simple Guide to Everyday Enlightenment).

October 28, 2017

An admirer of Mother Teresa once gifted her with her own personal “calling card.”  Teresa liked the card so much that she had copies made and regularly handed them out to people for the rest of her life.

Written on the small yellow cards were spiritual lessons Teresa had learned from the Church, her prayer life, and her ministry to the poor.  She summed them up in five steps.

The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.

Mother Teresa carried that prayer around with her— its words emblazoned on her heart (Kerry Walters in St. Teresa of Calcutta: Missionary, Mother, Mystic).

November 1, 2017

“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal” (Steve Maraboli).

November 8, 2017

To discover that you are loved is the center of all existence.  And when we are filled with this total and delirious love, little by little, we grow and love in turn.  That gradualness in our journeys is a sign of the infinite tenderness of God (Chiara Corbella Petrillo; Simone Troisi & Cristiana Paccini in A Witness to Joy).

November 24, 2017

Thanksgiving focuses on God’s gifts.  Our challenge is to take nothing for granted, but to appreciate every blessing.  Thanksgiving is a way of life.  Indeed, the prayer of thanksgiving characterizes a eucharistic people.

Our gratitude centers on the greatest gift of all— Jesus.  This gift, and all the other gifts through God’s providence, are expressions of God’s love.  How fitting and just it is that we always and everywhere express our gratitude to the Lord (Robert F. Mourneau in Living Prayer: A Simple Guide to Everyday Enlightenment).

November 25, 2017

God calls every one of us into a relationship of intimate, personal, loving, and life-giving communion.  He is inviting us to share his life and the life of his whole family.  Our response to God’s invitation to intimacy and communion is to be the person he created and calls us to be— to make a gift of ourselves— because, when we give ourselves away in love, we truly find ourselves (Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers in Ignite: Read the Bible Like Never Before).

November 27, 2017

Every family is a work in progress, but each one can move toward wholeness.  Circumstances differ, but every family needs peace, love, and trust.  Christian hope springs from belief in God’s presence during life’s high and low points.

In the struggle for wholeness, families become holy and generate holiness in others.  Holy families, not perfect families, are sources of hope to those facing dark and painful times (Robert J. Hater in Your [Imperfect] Holy Family: See the Good, Make it Better).

November 28, 2017

“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day” (Sally Koch).

December 1, 2017

We may read volumes and volumes on the art of swimming, yet we’ll never understand what swimming is like unless we get wet. So we may read all the books ever written on the love of God and never understand loving unless we love.

Where love is genuine, belonging is always mutual. It is like submerging ourselves into an ocean of sublime grace (Brother David Steindl-Rast in The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life).

December 25, 2017

“Hope is not merely a wish that something good might happen— it is the firm confidence and desire that the promises of God will be fulfilled” (Matthew Kelly in Beautiful Hope).

Links of interest…  Catholic group continues Blessed Stanley Rother’s work in Guatemala…  CFCA is now Unbound…  Fr. Stanley Rother: American martyr in Guatemala / beatification (video; 9.23.17) / devotional / fact sheetguild / holy relics: preparing the remains / martyrmissionary / my cousin the martyr / prayer for intercessionpriest / Servant of God / Shepherd who didn’t run (book) / sister remembersstories by those who knew him / Unbound…  Glorify God in body & spirit…  Godparents: Faithful examples to their spiritual children…  Missionary work begins with everyone…  Mother Teresa & the power of silence…  Mully: A documentary with heart & soul…  On belonging: How adoption is like a sacrament…  Spiritual adoption: What it is, why we do it, & the joy it brings…  St. Pius X: facebook / Santo Niño devotion / patron saint: about (more) – catechism – novena – profile – schedule of services / website…  St. Pope JPII prayer card…  Unbound (impact – sponsor – writing letters)…

WP posts…  Call of service…  Celebrations…  Dear God…  Gifts…  God’s loving mercy…  Mercy and justice…  Multicultural Mass…  Time well spent