Serendipity

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About ten years ago I came across a wonderful place online that I immediately longed to visit.  The National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague was in Oklahoma, though— too far from home to just drop by one afternoon— so I did the next best thing.

Way better than Calgon, technology can have us there quicker than one can say, “Take me awaaay!” so I clicked on the link to the shrine’s website and imagined myself there.

Serendipity

On our drive back from Wisconsin last October, Steven changed our route on a whim.  I doubt he even knew why; but we agreed that it would save us time, something we desperately needed, since we’d both been under the weather the entire trip, me with awful nosebleeds that only South Texas sunshine could remedy.  I was sure of that!

Feeling light-headed, I mostly drifted in and out of my wishfulness to be home; so I entertained myself by comparing and contrasting places we drove through, memorizing landforms and landmarks, figuring we wouldn’t be that way again.

Then I saw it!

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A sign announcing the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague?!!  Oh, my gosh!  I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but I knew I’d read the sign correctly as we’d zipped past it on my right.

Steven wasn’t feeling well at all, so I didn’t want to impose on him by insisting on a detour.  Still, without emotion or expectation, containing myself as much as possible, I quietly muttered, “We just passed a sign to the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus.”

I said nothing more, resumed my koala bear existence, and took in the scenery as I immersed myself in NPR’s political commentary once again.

Okay, I thought.  Another time, maybe.  Right now we just need to get home.

And then, much later on, Steven took an exit.

“Where are we going?  Is something wrong?” I asked.

We were headed to Prague, Oklahoma.

Wowza!  Another long-held, heartfelt wish come true!  I could hardly wait!

St. Wenceslaus Church

Of course, as we’ve discovered during our travels, a shrine is usually, though not always, within a church that serves the parish.  In Chicago, for instance, the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus is at St. Pius V, while the Claretian St. Jude Shrine is at Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Similarly, the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague is housed within St. Wenceslaus, though, really, they are one and the same, wholly synonymous as a singular sacred space for parishioners and visitors alike.

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Letters to Fr. Long Phan

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Prayers

Dearest Christ-child, O divine child, O thou lovely Jesus mine, see thy children would invite thee; come into these hearts of thine.  Yes, we know thy place and grandeur, though thou be but weak and small; for we say with deep assurance, thou art Savior of us all.

Powerful novena…  O Jesus who has said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened,” through the intercession of Mary, your most holy mother, I knock, I seek, I ask that my prayer be granted.  (State your request.)

O Jesus who has said, “All that you ask of the Father in my name, he will grant you,” through the intercession of Mary, your most holy mother, I humbly and urgently ask your Father, in your name, that my prayer will be granted.  (State your request.)

O Jesus who has said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall not pass away,” through the intercession of Mary, your most holy mother, I feel confident that my prayer will be granted.  (State your request.)

This novena can be recited at the same time every hour for nine consecutive hours— just one day— or once daily for nine days.

Thanksgiving…  Divine Infant Jesus, I know you love me and would never leave me.  I thank you for your close presence in my life.

Miraculous Infant, I believe in your promise of peace, blessings, and freedom from want.  I place every need and care in your hands.

Lord Jesus, may I always trust in your generous mercy and love.  I want to honor and praise you now and forever.  Amen.

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Contact information

Thanks to Cathy Saccente from St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis, MO for the booklet, Novena to the Infant Jesus of Prague (Reverend Harry E. Stitz, 1945), from which I took both the Christ-child rhyme and the novena; and to Sister at the Carmelite Monastery in Goonellabah, Australia for the Relic of the True Crib prayer card.

February 6, 2017

A soul of holiness does not strive for that holiness.  It strives to love, to love wholeheartedly; there lies the difference….  The simple soul loves; that is all (Raoul Plus, SJ in Holy Simplicity).

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Links of interest…  Calgon (commercial)…  Child Jesus: aboutchaplet (more) / devotion / feast / infancy & childhood / meditations / miracles (books) / novena / of good health / photos / questions & answers / reverence / shrine / solemnity…  Holy Infant of Prague: about / artifacts / chaplet / devotion / feast / history / league / novena / of good health (more) / petitions / prayers…  How you & your kids can “become like children”…  National Shrine of the Infant Jesus (Prague, OK): facebook / gentle travelswebsite / YouTube…  NPR…  Practice of the presence of God…  Real mystics love Jesus…  Santo Niño de Atocha: about / chapel / history / miracles / origin / prayers / story (more)…  Santo Niño de Cebú: basilica / feast (more) / history / homily / novena / origin / prayerssong…  St. Wenceslaus: about (more) / king & martyr (more) / memorial (more) / prayer (more) / profile / professing faith / song (about – lyrics – more) / story

WP posts…  Budding relationships…  Celebrations…  Christmas year ’round…  Connected tangents…  Faith and prayer…  Forever grateful…  God’s loving mercy…  Making meaning…  On being Christian…  Pink divinity…  Promise of hope…  Santo Niño…  St. Anthony Claret…  Sweet Jesus…  Venerable Margaret

Merry Christmas

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November 30, 2016, we received this year’s invitation from the Capuchin Poor Clares at the St. Joseph and St. Rita Monastery and committed to Christmas Eve Mass as before.

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Again, as on Christmas Eve 2015, we showed up early to relish every heartfelt gift— the singing, the rosary, Mass, and lots of photo ops— thanks to the Sisters, the altar servers, the deacon, concelebrants Bishop Emeritus Reymundo Peña and Fr. Juan Manuel Salazar, and everyone eager for a very special Capuchin Christmas.

Christmas Eve homily

Today we celebrate the birthday of Jesus.  Hoy celebramos el cumpleaños del Señor Jesús, nuestro Salvador; nuestro Dios; en el cielo, Jesucristo, Jesús.

En estos tiempos de festividades, tenemos muchas tradiciones y ¿cómo lo celebramos?

Con las amistades, los vecinos, y especialmente con nuestras familias que vienen de todas partes.  Y en este poquillo de alegría, pues celebramos compartiendo estas cosas que nos une.  O sea la familia, el gran amor que tenemos unos a los otros.  Entonces este tiempo están juntos.  Están llenos de la presencia de muchos conocidos y sencillos, pero también este tiempo de navidad tiene que ser una porción de contradicción.  Contradictions.  ¿Porque?

Porque también en este tiempo puede invitar pensamientos, sentimientos de soledad y tristeza porque tal vez hay un ser querido que ha fallecido recientemente y es la primer navidad en que no lo tenemos con nosotros.  Es un momento de verdadera tristeza.  Tal vez hay un pleito en la familia y no se han reunido en esta ocasión por el mal entendimiento o el pleito que tienen.  También puede ser una ocasión de soledad o tristeza en este tiempo de navidad.

Igual el nacimiento de Jesús es una ocasión de contradicción.  Porque al momento de ser rey de reyes no encuentran lugar donde posturarse por la noche, Jesús, María, y José.  Y, donde estando solos, los ángeles mismos invitan gente para ser testigos de la ocasión de su nacimiento.  Y, aunque son pobres, llegan los reyes magos ¿no? exquisitos, y presentan regalos.

Entonces en este tiempo el Príncipe de Paz, como la primera lectura nos dice, ha nacido.  Pero en la noche en ese tiempo también el rey Herodes busca su vida.  No hay paz.  Y a la vez tiene su hogar; su país; y muy, muy grande otro país cerquito.

Que tristeza ¿no? pero José y María no pierden la esperanza porque tienen todo en Jesucristo, hijo de Dios.  Y, en eso, Jesús por eso vino porque el entra en nuestra miseria.  El entra a nuestro dolor y tristezas y él se entrega.  El viene a darnos un regalo, el regalo de su presencia, el regalo de su cuerpo y sangre.

Y les digo esto porque por mientras que todos nosotros entramos este mundo para vivir como, por ejemplo, cuando nosotros sacamos nuestro primer respiro o los primeros llanes de los niños ¿verdad? usamos la vida, luchamos por la vida.  Pero Cristo, Dios hecho hombre, cuando el entró  al mundo, el vino para morir.  El vino para dar su vida para que nosotros la termináramos.

Este regalo que él nos ha dado— su cuerpo, su sangre— este regalo que él nos pide de nosotros a compartir a unos a los otros esta navidad, no nomas en este tiempo sino todos los días, [es] darnos el regado del amor a nuestro propio, nuestros hermanos.

Y si esto se entrega en los regalos que nos damos unos a los otros.  Pero en toda manera de ser… lo importante no son las cosas materiales que compramos sino el amor que compartimos.

It is the love we share that is the true love that God gives us….   That’s the gift he wishes us to share with one another.  Love one another.  Respect one another and listen.  But, most especially, offer [everything] rooted in love; for that’s the reason why he came— to give up his life so [that we might] have it, to make sure we know [God’s love].  Amen (Fr. Juan Manuel Salazar; December 24, 2016; transcribed audio recording, edited).

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Afterthoughts

Left as a blog comment this Christmas morning, Steven’s memory of last night’s Mass clearly describes the small, intimate setting at St. Joseph’s chapel.

Angelic voices— soft, with Spanish accents, from the cloistered nuns behind the glass-and-wood partitions on either side of the altar— filled the chapel, first with the familiar prayers of the rosary and then with Christmas hymns.

Bishop Emeritus Reymundo Peña presided joyfully, his voice strengthening as he proclaimed God’s message of love for us.

Father Juan Manuel Salazar delivered the homily both in English and Spanish and, after Mass, lovingly presented the Infant Jesus for veneration.

Notable, too, was the family with three small children dressed in Christmas costumes similar to San Juan Diego’s peasant garb.  At first shy and unsure but then overcome with eagerness to partake in the ceremony, their spiritual innocence captivated our collective heart with their unwavering leap of faith.

And, at evening’s end, amid the hugs, well wishes, and picture-taking, Mother Superior cheerfully thanked us for celebrating Mass with them and bid us a very resounding “Merry Christmas” and a safe drive home.

Feliz Navidad!

Quotes

Behold the dear Infant Jesus and adore him fervently.  Contemplate his poverty and humility in imitation of his most holy mother and of St. Joseph.  Repose near him as sweetly as you can.  He will not fail to love your heart, void as you find it of tenderness and feeling.  Nothing will be wanting to you, since you will be in the presence of that holy Infant.  Abide there and learn of him, how meek and humble he is, how simple and amiable.  See how lovingly he has written your name in the depth of his divine heart, which beats on that couch of straw from the impassioned zeal it has for our advancement and heaves not one single sigh unto his Father in which you have not a part, nor a single movement of his spirit, except for your happiness (St. Francis de Sales).

“Dear parents, I implore you to imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth” (St. John Vianney).

God is here.  This truth should fill our lives, and every Christmas should be for us a new and special meeting with God, when we allow his light and grace to enter deep into our soul (St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way).

“On this night let us share the joy of the gospel: God loves us; he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness” (Pope Francis).

With the shepherds let us enter the stable of Bethlehem beneath the loving gaze of Mary, the silent witness of his miraculous birth….  May she teach us how to treasure in our hearts the mystery of God who, for our sake, became man (Pope Benedict XVI).

December 27, 2016

“Let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

December 28, 2016

Oh, Jesus, with joy in my heart and in a spirit of gratitude, I thank you for your great blessings in my life.  Thank you for the celebration of your birth.  Thank you for restoring my hope of eternal life with you.  Thank you for all the gifts I have received from your generous hand (Franciscan MediaA Eucharistic Christmas).

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St. Joseph & St. Rita Monastery – 725 E. Bowie Avenue – Alamo, TX 78516-5500

Links of interest…  Advent & Christmas page…  Alamo, TX: Capuchin Poor Claresquiet place for prayer / St. Joseph & St. Rita Monastery (more)…  Away in a manger: St. Francis & the nativity…  Boxing Day…  Christ is born…  Christmas: antiphons, celebratingdeeper meaning, lights around the worldmad humility, spiritual life, & trials, mercy, & Padre Pio (more)…  Christmastide: customs / days / foods / octave (more) / other countries & cultures / overview / prayers (guide) / twelve days (more) / why celebrate…  Cloistered nuns want to pray for you…  How Jesus makes heaven present to us today (Fr. Romano GuardiniMeditations on the Christ)…  Las posadas & the 2nd Christmas novena (Dec 16-24)…  Living the Good News: Days of Christmas…  Mary: cause of our joy / mother of God (more) & of our salvation…  Our Lady of the Rosary Library…  Prophecies fulfilled (Mary M. McGlone)…  Soul of Christmas (Thomas Moore)…

WP posts…  Advent prayers…  Blue heaven…  Capuchin Christmas…  Christmas blessings…  Christmas scenes…  Christmas year ’round…  Church time blues…  Clarisas cookies…  Finding St. Rita…  God’s master plan…  Mary’s seven joys…  Oh, happy day!…  On being Christian…  Pink divinity…  Promise of hope…  Santo Niño…  Slice of heaven…  St. Felix…  Sweet Jesus…  Twelve candles…  Venerable Margaret

Heartfelt traditions

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Mid-afternoon Saturday, Steven asked, “So where would you like to go for Mass?”

My response was quick.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) beckoned, so we arrived early enough for me to photograph the altar.

Request

How delightful to see a priest conversing with a woman outside the south church entrance as we drove up.

“Are we going in that way?” I asked, motioning toward the priest donned in purple.

“No, let’s go this way.  It’s closer,” Steven said, already making his way across the parking lot.

Opening the door, we were totally taken aback.  Father Darryl was waiting for us!

How did he do that? we wondered, eyeballing each other with stifled amusement and disbelief.  Who is this man that he can be there and here so effortlessly?

“I remember you,” Father Darryl said, extending his hand to shake Steven’s.  “I haven’t seen you since the men’s ACTS retreat.”  Then he asked us to carry the Advent candle in the opening procession.  “Will you do it?”

Steven and I, still grinning from dumbfoundedness, didn’t respond quickly enough.

“It’s not difficult,” Father Darryl insisted, telling us what was expected.

“Sure!” I smiled.

But how did he know we’d say yes?  And what else did God have in mind?

Heartfelt traditions

Wholly immersed in the ritual before Mass, I observed every little movement through perfectly timed photographs that only my third eye, sans Coolpix, could capture.

From the confident, knowing hands that filled the incense cup in the wreath’s center to the graceful, attentive hands that received the candle, every moment was recorded mind, heart, and soul.  In the swirling incense permeating the air I instinctively affirmed as heartfelt traditions renewed Father’s prayers, the altar server’s lighting of the candle, and all blessings bestowed not just for the Advent season, but for our continued faith journey as a married couple as well.

Happy anniversary, darling!

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Prayers from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

God of a thousand years and the blink of a millisecond, grant me the willingness to cast aside the demands of this world, now in the days of these weeks before Christmas, that my heart may be humbled to receive more fully the gift of the Christ-child and my life enlarged to await more hopefully the return of my Savior and Judge.  Amen (Rev. Dr. Cathy Brall).

Almighty God, it is truly good to spend time in your house praising your name.  We give you thanks that you do not stand far off, but that you enter into our suffering.  Teach us to be advocates for peace in this restless world, in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen (K. J. Norris).

Precious Lord, it is with great humility that we turn our attention from the demands of this season to focus on you.  We need you, we trust you, we hope in you.  Let your steadfast love be upon us.  It is in your most holy name that we pray these words.  You, the alpha and the omega, from ages unto ages.  Amen (Dr. Michelle Keane Domeisen).

Come, holy savior, Jesus Christ, God with us.  How we need you!  If our night is dark, shine all the more with the radiance of your light.  Amen
(Rev. Dr. Ron Cole-Turner).

Lord God, the well waters of poverty are rising around us while a select few sit on the perimeters with full water buckets in their hands, poised to add to the misery of others.  Grant relief to the suffering and the hearts of those inflicting pain.  Remind us all of why it was that you came.  Amen
(Rev. Dr. John Welch).

O God, you “are enthroned forever, and your name endures to all generations.”  But our days are “like an evening shadow.”  Therefore, we lay before you our every weakness— the brevity of our lives are but signs of our failure to live as your people.  We trust ourselves to you, O God; and we pray that, by your grace, we might live securely in your presence now and forevermore.  Amen (Psalm 102:12, 11; Rev. Dr. Jerome F. D. Creach).

Lord, we thank you for the wonder of this season.  We thank you that you are our refuge and strength, and we ask you to help us follow you even when it is difficult.  Amen (Rev. Derek Davenport).

Sunday reflections from the OLPH bulletins

olph112616-141st: Hope…  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come (Matthew 24:42).

People who have had health issues or near-death experiences generally have a greater appreciation for each day being a gift from God.  The rest of us usually take for granted that we will be around tomorrow.  But when you start to look at each day as a gift, you realize all the little miracles that happen daily and grow in gratitude for all that we have been given (November 27, 2016).

olph12316-342nd: Love…  Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).

Do you bear good fruit for Christ?  Or do you spend your time, talent, and treasure constantly acquiring more toys, clutter, and junk?  Our time, talent, and treasure are gifts that God has given us.  What we do with them is our gift back to God.  What gifts are you planning to give to the Lord during this upcoming Christmas season? (December 4, 2016).

olph121116-553rd: Joy…  You, too, must be patient.  Make your hearts firm because the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8).

Patience is… one of those things many of us struggle with.  We want things to go according to our plan and our schedule.  Any change brings anxiety and fear.  Through daily prayer we better align ourselves with God’s will and his plan, which is far better than anything we can come up with on our own (December 11, 2016).

olph121716-43a4th: Peace…  When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home (Matthew 1:24).

Putting our complete trust in the Lord without expecting anything in return.  Striving to put God first in all things and follow him wherever he may lead us.  As we prepare for the birth of our Lord, pray for the strength and courage to be a model of discipleship, just as Joseph was (December 18, 2016).

November 28, 2016

“Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of divine love growing in silence” (Caryll Houselander).

From the gospel we learn the happy news of our salvation.  Learning it, we rejoice in it.  We behold God’s glory, and we glorify him.  Let us rise to the high places, to the sublime part of ourselves; let us rise above ourselves to seek God in himself and, with the angels, to rejoice in his great glory (Bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Advent).

“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives” (Russell M. Nelson).

This Christmas, when Christ comes, will he find a warm heart?  Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern (St. Teresa of Kolkata, Love: A Fruit Always in Season).

November 29, 2016

The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again.  When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace (St. Charles Borromeo).

December 3, 2016

Where do you look for your life?  Forward or behind?  May the Lord grant you the grace to leave things behind, even those which you consider precious in this life; and may he allow you to look ahead, where Christ is waiting for you for a glorious meeting that will open the gates of eternity
(Gus Encino, Aleteia).

December 5, 2016

“With faith I await this blessed day, on which you will receive the name of Jesus, the day on which you will be my Emmanuel, always with me, amid so many temptations and peril” (Bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Advent).

December 9, 2016

Pope Francis reminds us again and again that we bring the Word to life each and every day in the way we reach out to others with the love and mercy of God, the way we bring the light of Christ to a world too often shrouded in clouds and darkness, and the way we show to others a face that mirrors the face of God (Diane M. Houdek, Franciscan Media, The Joy of Advent).

December 10, 2016

“Advent is a time for renewal… because God brings his forgiveness to us in the shape of his Son” (Catherine Doherty).

December 21, 2016

Mary sustains our journey toward Christmas, for she teaches us how to live this Advent season in expectation of the Lord.  For this time of Advent is a time of waiting for the Lord who will visit us all on the feast, but also… in our own heart.  The Lord is coming!  Let us wait for him! (Pope Francis).

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Links of interest…  Advent: announcing the coming / anticipation & hope / blessed & brokendaily prayers /  deeper meaning in Latin / four attitudes & comings of Christ / from fear to faithGaudete Sunday (not pink, rose) / history / how can this be / lift up your headsmaybe you’re doing it wrong / meditating on Mary & keeping me from being a slackerO antiphons (hope – retreat – soothing balm) / one who is to comeour hope not in this world / passion for the possible / pregnant with expectationspreparing our hearts / real meaning of Christmas lights / reorienting ourselves to a slower paceseason (forgotten repentance) / seven counter-cultural ways / song of trust & acceptance / St. Joseph’s teachings & kissing him / time: for greater silence & prayer & of waitingtradition / what is / when it’s not yet Christmas / wreath (about – history – prayers – symbolism) / yoke that is easy & light…  Awake from your sleep…  Difficult art of being present…  Enchanted faith…  Faith is not a philosophy, but an encounter with Jesus Christ…   Holy Communion nourishes your supernatural life... Homilies: Christ is the solutionlighting candles in the dark / recipe for readiness…  Make a resolution to start being brave…  OLPH: facebook / Mass timeswebsite…  Open to dreams…  Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: Advent & Lent devotionals…  Reflections of family & faith…  “Rorate” Mass…  Seven endearing books to read to children at Christmastime…  Signs of salvation…  Six ways to tune out distraction & be more attentive…  Slouching toward Bethlehem…  Want to know what God wants from you?  Try total immersion…  Why the Church uses incense at Mass

WP posts…  Advent prayers…  Blue heaven…  Christmas blessings…  Christmas year ’round…  Church time blues…  For all time…  Gifts…  Letter to Santa…  Oh, happy day…  On being Christian…  One prayer…  Our Lady…  Picturing God…  Promise of hope…  Santo Niño…  Second looks…  Sweet Jesus…  Thanksgiving prayers…  Twelve candles…  Undeniable familiarity

Vattmann Thanksgiving

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Some stories, like seeds planted in fertile ground, become more real, more memorable, when nurtured.  Then, thanks to curiosity and subsequent experience, they flourish with each revisiting, becoming finely woven tapestries steeped in depth and complexity.

First visit

Such were my thoughts regarding Our Lady of Consolation in Vattmann, TX since January 11, 2011, when, thanks to the Texas Tropical Trail Region (TTTR) monthly outing, we were treated to the history of this quiet, little church community southeast of Kingsville.

Our hosts came across as a hardy lot: resilient, independent yet mutually supportive of each other, and wholeheartedly invested in their rural hamlet.  Their rich family histories were fascinating; but church was their life-giving core, honored above all.

Listening to the presentations, I gleaned that Vattmann’s mission in life (imbued innately, it seemed) was to know its history by heart and support its cherished sacred space— the latter through an annual fundraiser, the Thanksgiving picnic and country store— to keep the tiny unincorporated town alive and well for future generations.

Naturally, I wanted to experience this incredible, almost century-old tradition; but Steven wasn’t too keen on foregoing his very own turkey with all the trimmings at home.  So my wish quietly percolated as I patiently waited.

Second visit

Between 2011 and 2016, I thought about Our Lady of Consolation Church a lot.  Since we travel regularly to and from the Rio Grande Valley, I asked Steven if we could stop by King’s Inn for lunch “the next time.”

Thursday morning, March 31, 2016, we discovered that the road to the restaurant went past the church, too.  So, after lunch we stopped, took photos, and chatted a while with Maria, who takes Communion to the homebound in the parish.

“I hadn’t planned to come by church today, but I’m glad I did,” she said.

We talked about prayer and God’s wisdom.  “He placed us on each other’s paths for a reason.”  We agreed and exchanged email addresses to stay in touch.

On our drive back from the valley Saturday afternoon, we stopped for lunch in Kingsville.  “Do you think Mother Julia’s chapel is nearby?” I asked.  “I’m curious to see how the Sisters’ project turned out.”

Never mind that I took photos through the holes in the chain-link fence because the chapel and the gift shop were closed.  The place was totally different from six years earlier when Sister Maxie had shared her dream with the TTTR group, December 21, 2010.

We were so impressed!

Within three days’ time, Steven and I had visited two sacred spaces that I’d previously written about.  “I have so much to email Maria about when we get home.”

Only I was even more amazed by her response.

Maria volunteers at Mother Julia’s gift shop, so she works closely with Sister Maxie.  And now we have more in common than before, thanks to our impromptu meeting at Our Lady of Consolation.

Third visit

Bill and Robin invited us to their family’s Thanksgiving gathering, but Steven held out hope that our youngest son would join us for dinner.  Still, we knew that we’d do our usual— attend morning Mass; spend a leisurely day at home; watch football; and enjoy a quiet, intimate meal all by ourselves.  But that was before viewing Michael Gibson’s “Vattmann Thanksgiving picnic” on the evening news (KIII, November 21, 2016).

“I’ve wanted to attend for the past five years,” I reminded Steven.  “It’d be great to go, even if just once.”

Knowing Steven, he had his heart on fixing Thanksgiving dinner at home.  No rush, no fuss with traffic or lines, lots of football viewing, and eating to his heart’s content at will.  He’d started his pre-planning in October and had been adding to his grocery list day by day.  So he was ready to take on the bird and all the trimmings.  Never mind that these other delectable options had cropped up.

Still, I really, really wanted to experience Vattmann on Thanksgiving Day.  And Michael’s piece three days before had to have worked its magic because Wednesday afternoon Steven suggested that we “stop by St. Paul’s for ten o’clock Mass on our way south.”

Vattmann Thanksgiving

During Mass I thought about Father Stembler, pastor at St. Paul’s before his transfer to St. Gertrude’s in Kingsville.  I wondered how he was doing, especially since his dad had passed away late September.  We’d been out-of-state so hadn’t attended the memorial Mass in October.  But I had every intention of writing to him, so I mentally penned a letter to our beloved joyful priest on the drive to Vattmann.

And whom should I see as we approached the path to turn left onto the church parking area?  Father Stembler, all smiles, waving us along!  Unbelievable!  

If this was God’s way of letting me know that we’d chosen wisely in attending the picnic at Our Lady of Consolation, the rest was bound to be unforgettable.

I was able to spend a bit of time with Father Stembler as we all stood waiting in line.  He even hammed it up for my Coolpix!  And Bishop Carmody was there, too.  We love that he married us at the cathedral.  How special was that?  Two for one.

What an uplifting experience!  So many wonderful parishioners heeding the call of service!  So many happy faces engaged in outdoor activities, feasting on Thanksgiving dinner, buying all kinds of goodies at the country store, and just-plain conversing with each other in little clusters here and there.

For Steven and me, the ladies at the country store made our day.  Gwen told us the story of Jan’s husband, Stan, who made all the wooden crosses on display before he died November 8, 2016.  “He wanted to vote more than anything, and he did.”

Then she gave us a very special pass to the workroom where the ladies meet, February through November, to turn cast-offs into treasures.  And, while there, we met Jan and Betty, sweet ladies whose smiles and stories delighted us beyond imagining.  “Santa’s magical elves in Santa’s workshop,” Steven called them.

Of course, the ladies behind the pay-out counter were very nice, too.  One in particular smiled so blissfully— like a kid in a candy shop— that I wished I could’ve gotten to know her better.

Above all, however, I was grateful for my not-so-alone time spent in church.

As I took photos of the beautiful sacred space for the third time, I was taken by the perfectly lit stained-glass windows; the cheerful ambiance graced by impeccably painted walls and icons; and the thoughtful visitors who came and went, paying their respects lovingly as they sat, knelt, or walked about lightly in total reverence.

What a gift to be in the presence of God with these joyful hearts!

I melted within as I gave thanks and praise for my gifts and talents shared with others.

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Country store

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Thanksgiving picnic

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Afterthoughts

Seeing the posted photos from our Thanksgiving in Vattmann, Steven typed a comment for the blog.

“Ooh!  Nice!  May I include your thoughts in the post itself?”

“Sure!”

So, you may say, you had Thanksgiving dinner with a few thousand total strangers is a crowded parish hall and you call that a good time?

The answer is a resounding yes.

The long line moved fast; and everyone was friendly, chatting with each other, interested in how far each had come.  The priest who facilitated our marriage and the now-retired bishop who performed the ceremony at the Corpus Christi Cathedral were there, too.

The picnic was incredibly well-organized, and the family style serving worked better than anyone could expect as helpers in high-visibility orange vests waved new arrivals to empty seats.  And the food kept coming!  If you left hungry, it was your fault.

There was the rattle of constant gunfire at a skeet range set up behind the hall.  We saw several sharpshooters carrying away prize turkeys.  The Knights of Columbus were there with a raffle, and the kids had another one going as well.

Lots was going on; but the real deal for us was the country store, which displayed ornaments of all kinds, pot holders, statues, wall crosses, and other delightful items in an irresistible Christmas setting.

Since we were friendly and Deli was taking photos, we earned a very special pass to Santa’s workshop where the ladies shared some of their stories.  To prepare for the annual fundraiser, they work their Christmas elf magic ten months every year.

So, next Thanksgiving, why not do something different?  Head on into Texas brush country for a fun, friendly, bountiful dinner.  Help the fine folks in Vattmann, TX raise money for Our Lady of Consolation Church.

You’ll be glad you did!

Prayers

Almighty Father, you are lavish in bestowing all your gifts and we give you thanks for the favors you have given us.  In your goodness you have favored us and kept us safe….  We ask that you continue to protect us and shelter us in the shadow of your wings.  We ask this through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Father all-powerful, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite.  As we come before you on Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness, open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman, and child so that we may share your gifts in loving service.  Through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

December 7, 2016

Whatever mission God gives us, no matter how common it may appear, carries within it our potential sainthood.  What God asks of us during our lifetime is the most appropriate and suitable means to our growth in holiness— whether our lives remain ordinary or take an extraordinary turn (Julie Onderko in Discover Your Next Mission From God).

December 9, 2016

“The work of life is to tend the divine fire of holiness that has been kindled within against every breath that may endanger it; and every holy deed and thought helps to feed and fan the flame” (Basil W. Maturin in Christian Self-Mastery).

December 14, 2016

“In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone” (St. John of the Cross).

December 21, 2016

“We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives; so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all” (Dorothy Day).

December 22, 2016

“If you wish to take up your abode in the tabernacle of the heavenly kingdom, you must reach there through your good works without which you cannot hope to enter”
(St. Benedict).

December 27, 2016

“Know that God speaks to you and that, when God does, your assigned task, whatever it is, regardless of how modest it appears in the eyes of the world, takes on eternal importance” (Kerry Walters in Perfect Joy).

January 6, 2017

“Be a soul of love in order to become an apostle and you will discover a very beautiful thing: that at the bank of love, the more you give, the richer you become” (Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée in I Believe in Love).

January 28, 2017

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

February 23, 2017

“Let us, therefore, forsake the vanity of the crowd and their false teachings and turn back to the word delivered to us from the beginning” (St. Polycarp).

April 3, 2017

“It is far better to do a few things well than to start many good works and leave them half-done” (St. Francis de Sales).

May 5, 2017

“Nothing liberates our greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve” (Marianne Williamson).

May 20, 2017

“Thus a true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed” (St. Augustine).

July 7, 2017

We all long for happiness, but we might be settling for merely existing because we have grown comfortable thinking that total autonomy and satisfying our immediate needs and desires are all we can hope for.  Scripture and the teachings of the Church tell us that there is so much more for us to do here on earth and eventually in heaven.

See how many scripture verses you can find about finding true and lasting joy.  Spend some time reflecting on how your life compares with what God promises.  Get out your journal and write about how your actions and view of the world may be preventing you from having that abundant life (Teresa Tomeo in Beyond Me, My Selfie & I).

July 9, 2017

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light (Matthew 11:28-30).

September 18, 2017

It is in work that we find the test of our relationship to the creation because work is the question of how we will use the creation.  For Berry, work done well brings us into a wholeness and cooperation with the creation in which we can find health.  Bad work destroys the connections that make life possible.  For Berry, good work is like a prayer— it is an act of both gratitude and return.  Good work accepts the gifts of creation and uses those gifts to further their givenness.  There are seeds that lie for decades in the soil, waiting for the right conditions before springing to life.  Good work is that which creates the conditions for such life to burst forth from the whole of the creation (Wendell Berry and the Given Life).

October 13, 2017

“Let us continue to cultivate well; there is no ground so ungrateful that a laborer’s love cannot cause it to bear fruit” (St. Francis de Sales in Roses Among Thorns).

November 20, 2017

Last year Steven and I attended our first Vattmann Thanksgiving and had a terrific time!  This year dinner will be served between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.  The cost is $15 per adult and $7 per child.  See Our Lady of Consolation’s announcement for details.

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Links of interest…  Annual Thanksgiving fundraiser: 100th dinner / 2014 / giving thanks / holiday tradition / King countrypicnic (about) / special report (KIII; more)…  Call to communion & service…  Father Edward J. Vattmann: about / chaplain (more) / more / photos: 1 / 2…  Gift of work…  How can I live out my faith at workto exercise “the discipline of gratitude”…  It’s a beautiful day to get to work…  King’s Inn Restaurant: food / fried & true / website (contactevents)…  Manual for spiritual warfare…  Kleberg County (roots web)…  Life can be bountiful…  Our Lady: feasticon (more) / litanynovena / prayers / shrine (about)…  Our Lady of Consolation Church: diocesan map / facebook / one-room school house / photo / website (contact – events – history)…  Quotes from saints about work…  TX Tropical Trail Region…  US Genealogy Web Project…  Vattmann: about / cemetery (find a gravelocation – photos) / history / photos: wedding (c. 1910) & “where I grew up”…  The visitation & Mary, the walking tabernacle…  What does God want? A practical guide to making decisions

WP posts…  Beloved joyful priest…  Noon visit…  Repeated prayers…  Thanksgiving prayers…  Then and now…  Unexpected detours…  Vattmann church…  Venerable Julia Navarrete

Comforting thought

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During our weekend stay in St. Louis we strolled down Lindell Boulevard to the cathedral basilica to see for ourselves what Deacon Frank at St. Paul’s (back home) had so excitedly shared about his visit years ago.

Massive edifice

Regarded as one of the largest mosaic installations in the Western Hemisphere, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is also known for its burial crypts and its outdoor sculpture, The Angel of Harmony, that epitomizes racial accord.  The massive stone-grey edifice, visited by Pope John Paul II in 1999, is topped by a striking green dome that boldly proclaims its undeniable presence in the neighborhood even from afar.

Bigger than life

For me, entering the dimly lit vestibule was like stepping into a medieval masterpiece, only dark and foreboding for lack of white space.  I felt stifled by this looming sense of something bigger than life waiting past the inner doors.

Nothing prepared me for the sensory overload that blinded my third eye, rendering it useless on site (sight) the moment I entered the colossal nave.

My little Coolpix could never do any of this justice! I thought.  I’ll have to rely mostly on Steven’s shots with the big camera.

Comforting thought

I didn’t know what to do.  Steven kept insisting that I “pick a spot.”  But there was so much— too much, really— that, after standing there counting the pews to determine the middle, I chose an outer aisle seat on the left and simply sat.

Immersed in my quiet solitude, I just knew that Sunday morning Mass at St. Mary of Victories would be more in keeping with who and what I am than Saturday evening Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

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Prayers from A year of daily offerings (James Kubicki, SJ; 2016)

Fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit and give your peace to my soul that I may be free from all needless anxiety, solicitude, and worry.  Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you so that your will may be my will (St. Frances Xavier Cabrini).

Loving God, I give myself to you.  Take my day with its sorrows and joys.  Give me what you wish (James Kubicki, SJ; 2016).

November 14, 2016

When does God speak to us?  He speaks at all times, especially in prayer.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  But it is not a monologue.  When we pray, then, we should also listen because a good conversationalist is also a good listener (Fr. Kilian J. Healy in Awakening Your Soul to Presence of God).

March 14, 2017

“Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God’s sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God” (Thomas à Kempis).

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Links of interest…  5 of the most beautiful churches in America…Cathedral basilica of St. Louis: about / facebook / historyMass / photostours / videowebsite…  Difference between a basilica & a cathedral…  Heavenly St. Louis (tours)…  Mother Cabrini’s first miracle…  Photos: The most unusual churches in the world…  Prayer: devotions (pdf) / lexionarylitany / novena…  St. Louis, king of Franceabout / admirable kingAug 25 / life (1903 ebook) / patron of barbers & grooms / servant of the poor (more)…  Year of daily offerings (p. 254)…

WP posts…  Heart of hearts…  Heart’s desire…  Noon visit…  Old cathedral…  Sunday morning visit…  Two angels

Sunday morning visit

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I’m grateful for having found St. Mary of Victories (SMV) online because God planted the seed thentwo or three years ago, that he harvested today.  His playfulness is uplifting.  I’ve learned that listening to the voice leads me to discover the Holy Infant waiting for me.  His peek-a-boo antics are delightful.  Most of all, I love that God places wonderful folks on my faith journey (My email to Cathy and Bill Saccente, parishioners, who welcomed us sweetly before nine o’clock Mass; 10.9.16, edited).

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Call of service

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Outdoor scenes

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Parish hall

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About the church

After Mass, Max Kaiser, acolyte and lector who serves at St. Mary of Victories “most of the time,” spoke to us about the church and, afterwards, shared a bit of family history and service to the community (October 9, 2016; transcribed audio recording, edited).

smv10916-24This church was dedicated to our Blessed Mother.  It was the first ethnic parish of the archdiocese established by the Old Cathedral in 1843 by the Germans who immigrated to the United States in large numbers.  It was the home for the Maronite community when they came over in 1890s and established
St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral here.  And it was yet a third spiritual home to the Hungarian expatriates who fled the Communist revolution of Hungary in 1955 and 1956.  Today it is an indulgence church.  You’ll note that the altar was dedicated with the consecration by Pope Leo XIII [1878-1903], granting a plenary indulgence.  That means [that,] at the time of death, if an individual is in a state of grace and makes a worthy Holy Communion, they get four hundred days’ remission off their stay in purgatory.  And that is a specific request by Leo XIII to this specific church.

One of the other things I might note is [that the church] was consecrated at the behest of Pope Pius IX… in 1866.  That’s why we have the brass candelabra on the wall.  Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick [1843-1895] anointed each pillar with chrism oil— the oil of kings and bishops— to consecrate and dedicate this church formally to Roman Catholic worship and to no other purpose.

Consecrations are specifically governed by canon law.  They are not easily bestowed; they are not easily revoked.  We’ve had twenty-six consecrated churches in the archdiocese.  In the three-hundred-year history of the diocese, only one has been closed; and it took twenty-six years for the Vatican to lift the consecration of St. Liborius Church on Hogan and Market [North 18th Street], which some of you may remember.

You may also be interested to know about these triangular reliquaries and the large red ones and other relics we have embedded in the altars.  We are the third largest repository of relics in the archdiocese after both cathedrals and the CSJ motherhouse.  That’s the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet down on [Holly Hills] and Minnesota Avenue and, itself, worth a visit to see the remarkable chapel where they have the body of a child saved from Roman times entombed.

You’ll also notice the wonderful organ we have in the back choir loft built in 1856 by [?] Jacob Pfeiffer.  And, immediately above it, we have the crest of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger, the first German pope in seven-hundred years.  As the first German church of the diocese, we’re honoring him [by using], at his request, the emblem of his office using a mitre rather than the tiara which is on Pope St. John Paul II’s coat of arms here.

As an overture ecumenically to our East Orthodox brethren, he switched to the mitre for his coat of arms and incorporated elements of his see in Munich-Freising, Germany that he was promoted by them to become pope.  And, having ancestors from Bavaria, that means a little something to me.

The stained-glass windows were made between 1846 and 1896 by two firms: the Hoffman Company and the Emil Frei Art Glass Company.  The Hoffman Company went out of business in 1890; the Emil Frei Art Glass Company is still in business.  And you might have seen the article in the Post-Dispatch last week on Erin and Nicholas Frei who have been down to this church as visitors along with their dad and granddad, Robert Frei, who was the gentleman who inherited the studio from Emil Frei, Sr., himself a Bavarian immigrant who came first from San Francisco in the 1890s, then to St. Louis and really developed the art of stained glass for Roman Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical, and many other denominational churches.

And the thing that means something here also is [that] these pews, this remarkable communion rail, that baptismal font were all fabricated along with most of the altars by Professor Maximilian Schneiderhahn.  And, even though Maximilian is my first name, we are not related.

He was the first liturgical artist brought from Germany by Archbishop Kenrick to make church interiors for Catholic churches that were being built.  This was his first church interior; St. Pius V on South Grand Avenue was his last.  And he worked in stone, wood, marble, plaster, all sorts of media.  He made these pews in 1846.  He made that baptismal font in 1834.  More than fifteen-thousand people have been baptized.  And, our most recent addition, in terms of liturgical history, is the statue made of Father [now] Blessed Francis Seelos, a nineteenth-century Bavarian priest, in the Vatican statuary foundry in Italy.  I was privileged to uncrate it twelve years ago.

We also have a copy of Blessed Francis Seelos’s death mask on the side altar.  You’re welcome to take a look at it.  We have a portion of his sternum bone, which is locked in our safe in one of the reliquaries that honors him.  And we’re hoping the second miracle gets validated so he can be canonized— the second saint in the metro St. Louis area after Mother Philippine Rose Duchesne.

The church is remarkably churched.  As I said, it’s a granddaddy of all the ethnic parishes of the archdiocese, of all nationalities.  It is especially loved by many of the Marian Catholics in the St. Louis area.  And the Germans, the Hungarians, and the Lebanese all revere this church.  St. Raymond’s, even though it’s Maronite Rite, is very supportive of our continuance.

Something the guys and gals in this day and age might want to know, is [that] the archdiocese allows churches like ours that are historic to be open for Catholic weddings from Catholics outside parish boundaries.  Many of you grew up in the suburbs and, if you choose to hold your wedding here, you can.  And you can even bring your own priest, if you so choose.

Father Harrison, who is our chaplain— we are a chapel of ease of the archdiocese— will do the final paperwork; but the priest who will marry you will have responsibility for the preparation and the actual ceremony.  And we’ve done that many times.

I invite you to walk around and see all the remarkable artworks in the church.  And, when you realize that this church is 174 years old, in this type of condition, it’s pretty obvious Our Lord wants St. Mary of Victories Church to continue.

So, welcome, and thank you all for coming today.

Max is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, an honor bestowed on him by Cardinal Ratzinger for his part in preserving historic churches.

smv10916-23My dad, my uncle, and, to a lesser extent, myself were German liturgical craftsmen who fabricated and plated the bronze, gold, and silver textures in the churches for the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, and some of the Reform churches.  Many of the Reform churches use rather notable metal ware, believe it or not.  We’ve had our business for more than 118 years.

[My dad and my uncle] volunteered down here in the 1930’s, [and] I’m glad to keep the tradition going.  I really like the German, the Hungarian, [and] the Lebanese who settled this church because… they [were] more flexible.  You could join the parish even if you weren’t that ancestry, [and] now we have all nationalities represented.

Come back anytime and have a great visit.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, CSsR

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Prayer from SMV church bulletin

Our heavenly Father, long ago you inspired our… forefathers in the faith to raise this beautiful house of prayer and sacrifice in honor of your Son’s most holy mother, Our Lady of Victories.  Your providence then brought many… here under the co-patronage of this holy king, St. Stephen.  We humbly place before you today the spiritual and temporal needs of our historic church and its present-day community.  Grant us the grace to discern your holy will and to fulfill it zealously as faithful witnesses to the gospel here in the old heart of our city for as long as it may please your divine majesty.

St. Mary of Victories, pray for us.  St. Stephen of Hungary, pray for us.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

November 9, 2016

“The world tells us to seek success, power, and money; God tells us to seek humility, service, and love” (Pope Francis).

December 15, 2016

The Christian heart has always known Mary as the essence of compassion and love, to whom man can turn with particular and unreserved confidence.  This is expressed so well by the intimate name that was given her from the beginning, the name of mother (Fr. Romano Guardini in The Rosary of Our Lady).

March 5, 2017

Mother Mary is right there with us, granting her graces and lovingly pushing us forth— always towards her son, Jesus, so that we will be able to continue each day to put one foot in front of the other to walk in faith (Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle in Our Lady of Fatima).

June 1, 2017

“For our leader, the Divine Word, does not demand a strong body and beautiful countenance or high and noble birth, but a pure soul well-grounded in holiness”
(St. Justin Martyr).

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Links of interest…  Adoremus…  Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos: about / biography
(more) / healernational shrine (more) / prayersprofileten tips / wonderworker…  Catholic community doesn’t look the same for everyone…  Criticism of Pope Francis rooted in misunderstanding of Vatican II: parts one, two, & three…  Desacrilized churches…  Hidden heart of Catholic St. Louis…  I love the Mass, imperfect as it is…  Palm Sunday (2016)…  Scapulars: Just another weird Catholic thing…  Spirit of 79: The number of Americans proposed for sainthood…  St. Louis Mass mob: aboutfacebook…  St. Mary of Victories: about / archdiocese page / early historyfacebook (landmark) / help save the churchmediaphotos / relicswebsite…  St. Stephen: about / Aug 16 / devotion to Mary / Hungarian apostlememorial / prayerprofile / quote…  Ten ways you can love Mother Mary…  Why I wear a brown scapular / sacramentals aren’t Catholic superstition

WP posts…  Comforting thought…  Faces of Mary…  Familiar yet new…  Mary’s miraculous medal…  Mary’s seven joys…  Marytown shrine…  Old cathedral…  St. Mary Cathedral…  St. Mary revisited…  St. Mary’s

Old cathedral

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October was a good month for travel and heartfelt wishes realized.  While in St. Louis, Missouri, we delighted in sunny daylight hours, lots of friendly folks, and three sacred spaces— the last of which was “the old cathedral,” the Basilica of St. Louis, King, in the city’s historic downtown area.

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Prayer

O God who called your servant, Louis of France, to an earthly throne that he might advance your heavenly kingdom and gave him zeal for your Church and love for your people, mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works and attain to the glorious crown of your saints through Jesus Christ, our lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

October 28, 2016

If God sends adversity receive it in patience, give thanks to our savior and think you have deserved it and that he will turn it to his advantage.  If he sends prosperity, thank him humbly so that you become not worse from pride or any other cause, but better.  For we should not fight against God with his own gifts (St. Louis of France, edited).

November 24, 2016

“In prosperity give thanks to God with humility and fear lest, by pride, you abuse God’s benefits and so offend him” (St. Louis IX).

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Links of interest…  Fire of 1849about / Laclede’s Landing / more…  Gateway Arch…  Heavenly St. Louis (tours)…  Old St. Louis Cathedral: abouthistory / hours / Mass / parkingphotos / restoration / video…  Prayer: devotions (pdf) / lexionarylitany / novena…  St. Louis, king of Franceabout / admirable kingAug 25 / life (1903 ebook) / patron of barbers & grooms / servant of the poor (more)…

WP pages…  Meditations…  Prayer…  St. Joseph

WP posts…  Comforting thought…  Heart of hearts…  Heart’s desire…  Noon visit…  Sunday morning visit…  Two angels