Friday, December 19, 2014

Another take ... Kindness of a Shepherd ...

This was just a beautiful piece as a personal interest story from the Shrine. It approaches it in a different manner than my last post, but it's wonderful!

Check it out!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Perfect Storm of Love - Special Child, Cardinal Burke, & Our Lady of Guadalupe

Most of you have heard the story, but just to catch those up to speed who haven't… A little over a year ago on August 3, 2013, our eldest son made his First Holy Communion at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI. We were so blessed that he had the honor of receiving his 1st Communion from His Eminence, Cardinal Burke. Cardinal Burke was the bishop of La Crosse when my husband was in seminary (that's another story!) and he ordained my husband's brother, Fr. Sam Martin. He is a very personable man, even always remembers our names.
After the Mass last year, our second son Louis (pronounced loo-ee) was quite upset that he couldn't receive his first Communion that day. When His Eminence came around to greet the families, he saw Louis and asked about him. Telling him why Louis was upset, Cardinal Burke then said, "Don't worry, your first Communion will come soon enough!" And instead of pulling away in a shy manner, Louis grabbed onto his robes and sobbed into them. Cardinal Burke so very gently embraced him as he cried. My mother captured the epic moment on camera:

That was a moment we will treasure forever! We had planned for Louis to receive his first Communion this Advent from his godfather and uncle, Fr. Sam, and then we saw that Cardinal Burke would be back to the Shrine this December!
So, in my feminine boldness, I asked - knowing it probably wouldn't work out, but just on the chance it could - if His Eminence would be able to give Louis his first Communion while in town. His secretary responded saying that of course His Eminence remembered that touching moment with Louis and he would be honored to give Louis his First Holy Communion at the Shrine!
We were so excited! It worked out that the best day was on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe - December 12 … it turned out to be such a wonderful and blessed day despite the drizzly weather! Here are some photos and reflections from the celebration…

Louis praying before Mass began.
As much as we were overjoyed to have this opportunity, anything where Louis is involved is uncertain. He has a very rare disease (CAPS/ NOMID - there is a link to our CaringBridge site at the bottom of the blog) that went misdiagnosed for the first five years of his life. Not only has this little man suffered more in his short life than most do in a lifetime, it has left him very, very VERY passionate. When he reacts, he reacts big. When he loves, he loves with overwhelming tenderness and affection. When he gets upset, it is very hard for him not to have an emotional breakdown. He's aware of it, though, and has been working on 'how to calm down' and explaining his little victories to us…such a sweet boy.
Before Mass began, Grandma and Grandpa Martin were able to join us, too!
With an event like this though, I knew he was excited, nervous and just a little buzzing from all the emotion and energy of the moment. Needless to say, my alert for his "emotional triggers" was on high. I was extra careful not to be short with him, but not overly encouraging either. You have to walk that fine line in the middle - just enough encouragement and calm corrections if needed.
I love this photo. It was taken right after the procession. It's just - our life - complete with 3yo sucking his thumb and 6 year old with fingers in his ears! lol! I guess he didn't like the song. 

I think Louis is contemplating the amazing dome above our heads in this one! (Either that or praying to get out of the suit!)
Of course, then he had to begin leaning over the aisle to touch the shiny bronze grate that is attached to the side of the pew. Like a moth to the flame, he couldn't help himself. I let it go once and even twice, but I took a deep breath knowing that I couldn't allow him to be hanging over into the center aisle of the Church. I also knew such a correction could bring a strong reaction, but it couldn't be helped. 
I asked him to stop and when he didn't I switched places with him. He began to kick the kneeler in anger and kept pushing me. I prayed. I prayed so hard that God would help him control this passion and let this moment be full of His grace. We stood for the Gospel (read: I had to hold his arm to keep him in a standing position) and I just looked at the beautiful image of Christ above the altar, pouring out his love from the cross of salvation. I prayed, "Lord, I know you love us and you love Louis. I want to offer you all my suffering this day for extra grace for him, but I know you don't need it! You can pour out your love and grace on him regardless. And I beg you as a child to show us this favor - cover him with your grace and love! Let the struggle fall to me if it needs to be placed anywhere, but show him mercy, sweet Lord!"
The Gospel ended and we all sat down. As I gathered up Emmanuel (3yo) on my lap, (which was humorous in itself with my pregnant belly getting bigger, he kept sliding off what was left of my lap!), I felt my left arm being wrapped in a hug. I looked down to see Louis leaning his head on my shoulder and holding onto my arm. He looked up at me, 
"I'm sorry, mom, I love you!" My heart and all my anxiety melted away, "I love you, too" I responded kissing his forehead and then I lifted my tearful eyes back up to the cross and with all my heart I prayed "Thank you!"
The Mass progressed peacefully after that, Louis even got a "shout out" from Cardinal Burke during his homily (so lovely!). Then I could tell Louis was getting nervous. He kept asking "When do I go?" and "Where do I kneel again?" He began making me nervous! So, again, I just prayed. You know how you wait and wait for a special moment and then it arrives and you just so want it to go perfectly, but of course you don't really have control - so it's almost like you are viewing a movie unfolding before your eyes, just praying for the right outcome!
The time did come and Louis went up and knelt at the Communion rail. His Eminence, Cardinal Burke, came forward, altar server at his side, and presented Louis with the Holy Eucharist. Louis received and then with the utmost reference and control he made the most beautiful sign of the cross he has ever made (just like he promised he would). :-)

Our dear Louis Francois, receiving his First Holy Communion. Later he told me that when he looked in Cardinal Burke's eyes he felt like he was going to cry, "but I made sure I didn't," he said, "I don't even know why, mom, just something about him."

His beautifully reverent Sign of the Cross.
His Eminence's gentleness came through again as Louis just stayed there. Cardinal Burke leaned forward and said with a loving smile, "You can go back to your seat now, Louis."
A beautiful conclusion to the story that begun a year ago … or perhaps just a beginning … 

After we all received and returned to our pew, we knelt to pray. Gregory leaned in front of me (practically knocking me over) to reach Louis. (And it was Gregory who had tears this time!) He embraced Louis and with tears leaking from his eyes he said, "Congratulations, Louis! I'm so happy for you!" Louis just smiled.
Thank you, Lord!

What a wonderful and blessed day!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

The Martin Boys (minus the #TinyDictator)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rediscovering Womanhood - the great gift and privilege of being a woman

Originally posted at The Courier

    For most people, it was just another Saturday, but for the women attending the Diocese of Winona’s first annual women’s conference on New Feminism, it was a moment. Have you ever had a moment? When something occurs in your life that changes your perspective, that influences your mind and heart in a profound way? A certain talk, a scripture verse, a conversation, a hike in the wilderness, a pilgrimage, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one – it is a moment when it’s as if God touches down and imprints that experience into our hearts and we are forever changed.
   I was overwhelmed by God’s work at the conference. I am truly humbled to be a small piece of this proclamation of the great dignity of womanhood. We had our plan for the day and God had His. I had hoped that we could share the truth about womanhood, counteracting the negative attitude towards the feminine in our culture, and that this would be an educational conference. God had other plans.
   Truth in Christ is not to be underestimated. Jesus promised, "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) To be set free is a powerful moment!
   Women are under pressure to redefine themselves in a secular view. They are told they must be more assertive, be successful in their careers, use contraception, control and discipline their bodies, and work against those nurturing, maternal inclinations. It’s a heavy chain to bear when you are trying to change yourself to fit another’s standard.
   What freedom came when women heard the truth of their great dignity as women! Affirming the truth that has been crying out from their hearts, they can let go of the chains of society’s view and embrace their womanhood, a great gift from God.
   God brought everyone together – all ages, all states in life, all celebrating the privilege of being a woman! What a gift it was to hear Sr. Marie Paul Lockerd, RSM share about how the cycles of fertility in a woman’s body were important even for the consecrated religious woman! She offered the insight that when a consecrated woman offers the gift of her very self to God, the fertility and emotional cycles are not lost on her, but instead become an aid to her spiritual life of prayer, service and living out her spiritual motherhood in the world.
   I would like to thank all those who helped to make this such a meaningful day! Thank you – all of you! – who prayed for us throughout the planning process and the day itself! Thank you to all who attended the conference! Thank you to Tisha Frost our M.C, Leah Jacobson and Eileen Love, our speakers, and those who came to share their ministries with women! Thank you to the women from St. Augustine parish who selflessly served the conference attendees all day! Thank you to those from the pastoral center who helped pack bags and folders! Thank you to Sr. Paul Mary, director of the Office of Faith Formation! Thank you to Bishop Quinn, without whose support these events would never take place! And a great thank you to our Almighty God – His Word continues to set us free in truth.
   We will definitely have more events in the future, including a Lenten retreat day for women! Indeed, I am in awe of you. You set aside time to seek God in your busy lives. You take time to encourage one another and bring the truth to your friends. You live out your daily lives in hope and knowledge of this truth. This is not easy! We all face struggles every day in the mundane tasks. We could choose to be burdened by the challenges, and find an "easier way.” Yet, we choose Christ! We choose to follow Him and we find hope in the challenges and beauty in our femininity. We have set the course; we are putting our hands to the plow and not looking back. In Christ alone do we find our truth of ourselves, let us never lose sight of His face! Let us always seek to find His will for our lives, as women, as daughters of the King!

So many attendees shared their experiences! Here are just a few of their quotes:
"Everything has changed for me. God has healed my heart in such a deep way. Please keep sharing! Please keep having more events like this!”

"I was bitter and angry coming here, and I just had to tell you, I found my joy of motherhood again! Thank you so much!”

"For decades I’ve been holding onto pain – only realized today how I need to give it to God, to allow Him to make me whole. Thank you for encouraging me to come. I needed to be here.”