Monday, November 14, 2011

Heaven Is Measured in a Mass

A few pews behind me in church one Sunday, a little boy, about three years old, piped up in the silence and asked quite audibly, "Are we in heaven?"

His dad answered, "We're in church," and those of us around them exchanged smiles and chuckles. 

I was struck wondering, what did that little child see that some of us missed? He looked around and, perhaps, the first thing he saw and felt were the hundreds of people around him making up the communion of saints called the Church Militant. In heaven there will be multitudes upon multitudes adoring God, with angels ministering to Him. 

Little Bret heard people saying the same lines, same prayers, standing, kneeling, and bowing as one. He saw unity. The words issued forth from their mouths as coming from a harmony within their hearts.

He heard singing and glorious music, proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.” The music ascended to the heights of the church’s arched ceiling. It was beautiful.

Then he saw “one like a son of man” dressed in long robes with a voice of authority standing in the very front. Bret thought he looked like the one “in charge.” He saw what looked like angels in white robes and hoods ministering and waiting on the One in Charge. Certainly, this must be God and this place must be…heaven! 

This little child had no knowledge of the greatest miracle he was about to witness take place on the altar. He had no idea that the God of the universe would take up residence here under the appearance of bread and wine in a sacramental way, and that we, the church, would eat at the table of the banquet of the Lamb, "who takes away the sins of the world." He didn't know that the priest was acting in the person of Christ even as a humble, servant of God himself, bringing us a taste and a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet. But Bret heard, felt and saw something of God's presence, that this was like heaven.

Truly, children do have a special ability to see supernatural realities where we grown-ups sometimes fail. That is why Jesus preached that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these little children. Unless we become like little children, innocent and sincere, we will not see God nor the kingdom of heaven already here on earth. Purity is the means by which we can see God, His work and presence in our lives, His direction, and His beauty and know His joy. “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” said the philosopher Kierkegaard. Purity is our will perfectly in harmony with God’s will. It is total love. It is not divided. It is to be 100% concentrated.

When we go to Mass, do we feel divided between home and work and our spiritual life? Is there a rift that is preventing us from seeing God?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purity in light of its relation between purity of heart (charity), purity of body (chastity), and purity of faith (“love of truth and orthodoxy of faith”) (2518). This purity then is an integration of flesh and spirit, body and soul, illuminating us to see more clearly the ways of God.

Every encounter with grace moves us in the right direction, closer to that purity of heart, purity of affections, purity of will and purity of intent with which we can see God.
How can we become like little children? All that is required is a simple ASK. Then let God surprise you with His grace.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The First Snowfall

There is something magical about the first snowfall of the season. Although it signals the start of a long, hard winter in Wisconsin, there is joy in the snowflakes and laughter in the skies!

Like a child, I wish to run outside and twirl around and to catch a snowflake on my outstretched hand!

Instead, I go out and take a drive to the nearby grocery store, dodging slushy puddles in the parking lot and keeping the windshield wipers in constant motion so I can see.

I buy some eggs for making dinner and then a bunch more. I am in the mood to stock up on food items while I am out in case the rest of the week is like this. I have this sudden desire to stock up on food and create a nesting place at home for the cold days ahead.

When I return, the rooftops are white, as though painted by some invisible hand. Only tiny, green shoots of grass poke out of the thin, white blanket on the ground. They stick their heads out for one last look at the earth, before they will have to settle under the snow and sleep until spring.

That is winter in Wisconsin for you. And I love it.

With every turn of the season, the Lord lets us write something new upon our lives. He gives us a fresh start to make of our lives something beautiful and enriching for others. “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens…A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away” (Eccl. 3:1, 6).

Casting away is always hard, but it brings with it the freedom of detachment and the coming of new surprises and adventures. As children gleefully exclaim about the falling snow, we can join them and the angels in singing hosannas as the earth is purified and baptized in white. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow” (Is. 1:18).

From an unfinished draft of a poem I wrote:

The skies are shedding feathery snow,

Drawing closer the chambers above with those below,

Clothing the earth in bridal white and veiling you in lace of light.

Snowflakes, falling and landing on your uncovered head,

Blink under the street lamps – like pointed stars that

Twinkle in the night and then melt into the coming dawn –

So they glisten on your hair, suspended in Time for a precious, fleeting moment,

And I wonder aloud at nature’s touch of snowflakes on your hair.

I hope that we take delight in these magical moments of the turn of another season and stop to notice, and be amazed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Annie Get Your Halloween Costume

I was standing in Goodwill Store, brainstorming options of who I should dress up to be for the Halloween “Saints and Sinners” party, when it came to me that I could dress up as a cowgirl, using relatively inexpensive and few resources. This costume came together for me in about an hour and I didn't have to buy any of it. It is all borrowed, except for the skirt.

Then the character came to me: I would play Annie Oakley from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show! I didn’t really know that much about Annie, so I did some online research at "Women in History" (

As I read about Annie Oakley and who she was, I began to feel a connection and friendship growing. Annie was born on the Ohio frontier in 1860. She was the fifth of seven children. Like me, she lost her father at an early age, and therefore, began shooting game at age 9 to support her widowed mother and siblings. Her mother remarried, was widowed a second time and eventually married a third time. Annie survived a lot of hardship in her life but didn't give up, and she went on to become one of the most renowned and legendary women in history.

Famous for her sharp shooting, Annie was nicknamed "Little Sure Shot" and became the main attraction in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She won many awards and entertained many audiences with her sport. The Women in History article tells how one of her feats was that at 90 ft. she could shoot a dime tossed in midair!

Most inspiring was how she used her God-given talents for the good of others. “She played a role in breaking barriers for women with her talent and accomplishment in her sport. She showed great compassion and generosity to orphans, widows and other young women" (
see link above).

Annie overcame many hardships in her lifetime, including growing up in poverty, suffering mental and physical abuse, and being physically injured in a train wreck that left her partially paralyzed for a time. Recalling my own close call surviving the car accident at age 3, I admire Annie for her courage in keeping on with her life and her sport. I also have my father to look up to, who at age 19 was paralyzed in a car crash. Like Annie, it was by sheer determination and strength of character that he, like her, regained the ability to lead a normal life. I only hope I have the same determination in me.

While we don’t know that Annie is a saint, and I know nothing about her spiritual life, I do admire the "saintly-like" way she lived her life. If Annie were declared a saint, I think she could rightly be patroness of all those suffering from loss of a parent, poverty, mistreatment and physical injury. She could also be patroness of sportswomen, of course!

After the Halloween party, I had a second opportunity to be Annie Oakley. I drove to a neighborhood to take pictures of kids trick-or-treating and introduce myself to their parents as the writer of their neighborhood magazine. I had such a good time, I wished that Halloween came more often so that people would have a reason to walk around and socialize with their neighbors! It was a dark night but everyone was so friendly and eager to talk. The fact that I was dressed in a costume seemed to especially invite conversation, and everyone thought I made a good Annie Oakley.

Could I have done it without being in Annie's boots and without the courage that her character seemed to infuse within me? When we dress up and put ourselves in another person's shoes whom we admire, we outfit ourselves in more than just clothes, but in qualities that should bring out the best of us...or the worst of us. Isn't that what dressing up for Halloween is all about?