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Blog 6/19/2013

A Fortnight for Freedom…..
On Friday, June 21, 2013 begins the second “Fortnight for Freedom,” or a special two week period that the American Bishops have set aside asking Catholics and other religious people of our country to pray and fast for freedom of religion in this country.  The first “Fortnight” was last year around the same time.  It sounds strange that we should need to do this, since one of the founding principles of this country was based on religious freedom and the earliest settlers came to these shores to escape religious persecution, but we have come upon difficult times in terms of professing and living one’s faith in God in this country.   When I was a little girl and was going to public school in the 50s, there was no problem with putting on Christmas pageants or singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” as we marched down the aisle in our school auditorium for the annual Christmas show.  Back then, our country seemed to be more unified in its Judeo-Christian roots, so that didn’t seem to be an issue.  
multiple religions
Even having said that, however, I’m sure there were many Jews who were not too happy with the many Christmas and Easter practices we took for granted.  Some Jews assimilated into the culture in different ways.  Stuart Hecht’s new book demonstrates how Jewish figures like Irving Berlin, for instance, a first generation Jew who wrote “White Christmas” and “The Easter Parade” chose to do so as a way of carving out a path for non-Christians to participate in the American dream.  (Stuart Hecht, Transposing Broadway: Jews, Assimilation and the American Musical, 2011).  Generally, though, we did not hear much about Chanukah or Yom Kippur or Seder Suppers until the 70s and 80s.  It was during that period that ecumenical and interfaith dialogue began.  Then, we began to learn more about our brother and sister Jews, and we became much richer because of that.  Today, our country is much more diverse, but I think we have made one grand mistake in trying to accommodate all the different religious traditions we now hold dear.  Instead of allowing people to openly celebrate parts of their tradition so the rest of us can observe and we can actually teach each other our various beliefs and traditions, we have banned them all.   Huge Mistake.  Huge Mistake.
We have tried to say we are a multicultural country with multiple religious practices and we have gone out of our way to promote tolerance of the “other” and promote diversity, but we have stopped short of sharing each other’s insights into the Holy One.  We have stopped short of examining the ethical systems that underlie our religious traditions as well, and instead, have embraced a relativism that negates all our particularities.   The religious communities that have engaged in ecumenical or interfaith dialogue have begun to understand, but the secular communities that have excluded religions have not.  And as this secular  multicultural diversity approach has now been around for a while, various voices are emerging that are citing its ineffectiveness.  This current approach is not working.  We are not celebrating each other’s insights and achievements.  Sociologists are telling us that people are becoming less civic minded; they are volunteering less, and even though we may all recognize diverse cultures, more people are pulling up the drawbridges and voluntarily isolating themselves within their own cultural and religious comfort zones.  
multicultural image
We are not learning from each other.  When Samuel Huntington wrote his Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order in 1996, he introduced the term “clash of civilizations” to describe part of our present dilemma.  In his more recent work in 2004, Who Are We? the Challenges to America’s National Identity, he claimed that America was now in trouble.  The West was in disarray.  It was undergoing a ‘moral decline, cultural suicide and political disunity’.  Among the symptoms were a rise in crime and other antisocial behaviour, the disintegration of the family, a loss of social capital, a weakening of the work ethic in favor of a ‘cult of personal indulgence’, and a ‘decreasing commitment to learning and intellectual activity’.  He felt that America, having embraced multiculturalism, was in danger of losing its identity.   That is quite apparent today, in the way religious traditions and beliefs are being challenged, curtailed or in some cases suppressed.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth of England, has also written several texts alerting us to the shortcomings of multiculturalism.  In one of his more recent texts, The House We Build Together, he notes that with our technological age, we are entering into a huge developmental juncture for the human race.   Not unlike the other seismic shift periods when the human race developed an alphabet, or began writing, or saw the advent of the printing press, technology today is instantly putting us in contact with people from around the globe.  National identities are beginning to suffer and decline.  If we don’t like what ABC or CBS or NBC is telling us, we can listen to the BBC (British Broadcasting System) or TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) or Al Jazerra.  As national identities are beginning to become less prominent, global identities are being sought, even if unconsciously.  One of those global identities is often religious faith.   Catholic Christianity (as well as all other forms of Christianity), Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism are all global identities.  The clashes of civilizations have just gotten more complicated.
Sacks has a practical suggestion to address this problem.  He tells us that we would do better if we went back to the Ten Commandments and the covenant idea to create a more balanced, diverse, morally grounded society.  After all, the suzerainty treaty, which was one of the sources of the covenant language and code from the Hebrew Scriptures, was a political document before it was a religious one.  (A Suzerain was a Hittite ruler [18th to 12th century BCE], who had his subjects agree to abide by this treaty stipulating what each owed each other).  
ten commandments
The Mosaic covenant, which utilized this treaty language, bound together twelve very different tribes of Israel under a banner of love of God and love of neighbor.  Not too long ago, prior to all the “politically correct” nonsense that has gotten out of hand, people respected the Ten Commandments in civic halls of justice and statehouses, because of its historicity as well as its truth.  There was a code of behavior encased in that Decalogue that could guide a society to justice.  Sacks argues that if we really want to create a just society acknowledging all our diversities, the Decalogue may be helpful, but we also need to look at our methodology.  Are we trying to build a society as if we were constructing a hotel? or a country house? or a town?  If as a hotel, we are we just selecting a space to live without much interaction with any of the other tenants.  If as a country house, we are just the guests at someone’s lovely manor, perhaps comfortable, but still just guests.  If as a town, however, we are each being given an invitation to build a life together where we can all live, but also all work together to form a common identity.  To do that, we need to listen to each other.  Sacks chooses the last.
The American bishops have asked us to pray because today there is a clash between religious values and ideas of justice vs. civic ones.  From some of the earliest writings in Western civilization (Plato’s Republic among others) justice has been a goal of the polity.  And Plato would be the first one to tell you that if all men were just we would have no need of laws, but all men are not just, so laws are put in place to guide us to justice.   In very concrete terms, the Church finds itself arguing against some laws and/or some proposed legislation, like the HHS mandate, or arguing for the sanctity of marriage and not its redefinition, and arguing for humane solutions to immigration reform that uphold the family and for a variety of other humanitarian services that are being curtailed.  To use Sacks’ model of building society via the town model, and building an American town, one based on freedom, we might do well to heed the words of the former pope, Blessed John Paul II:
"Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals, and in political life it becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power. Far from being a limitation on freedom or a threat to it, reference to the truth about the human person – a truth universally knowable through the moral law written on the hearts of all – is, in fact, the guarantor of freedom's future."
– Blessed John Paul II, 1995 Speech to the UN
For freedom’s sake, it is time to listen to one another, and it is time to acknowledge some truths about the human person in order to build a just society for ourselves and for our children.  May the Fortnight for Freedom help us to chart the way.
For more information about the Fortnight for Freedom, go to:

Blog 6/9/2013

Hidden treasures…they are everywhere…if only we pay attention.....
This afternoon, I took a short walk in the pine groves and stumbled on a hidden treasure here in New England.  One has to be in a shady, almost acidic environment of pine trees and quiet to see the lady slippers.  They are a beautiful endangered species of flowers that only seem to bloom in the quiet.  Even though there are animals not far away and humans bustling not far away, in the pine grove, it can be quiet.  The pine needles and yielding groundcovers provide a soft carpet on which one can barely hear one’s footsteps.  One hears an occasional owl or woodpecker, or the branches swaying in the breezes, but it is a good space for reflection.  Sometimes, one needs the quiet and one needs to be left undisturbed to grow.  I think the lady slipper shows us that.
I also discovered some other hidden treasures this week.  My mother-in-law, Yvonne, passed away a few years ago, about a year after my own Mom.  Of course, we have tried to give away their clothing and parcel out some of her belongings to family members.  From my Mom, a simple candy dish that she always had on her kitchen table filled with some type of candy elicited fond memories.  We bought it when we were together in Ireland shortly after my Dad passed away.  
candy dishFrom my mother-in-law, a few pieces of jewelry have come my way.  I really enjoy antique jewelry, for they seem to tell so much of a story.  One piece was a simple medallion of our Lady, a silver and gold one about the size of a quarter.  I don’t think the metals are that valuable, but the history behind the piece and who wore it and how often and for what occasion has always been intriguing for me.  Yvonne had several older aunts and cousins, so the piece may have come from some of them before her.  
 A second piece was a cameo of sorts on a small filigree pendant with a few tiny flowers and diamond chips and a single drop pearl.  Again, I wonder its history.  If only jewelry could talk.  I had to add chains to each since one was missing and the other broken, but I am reminded that those types of pieces speak of an older more sedate time, when women cherished family pieces, and wore them only to church or on special occasions.  I do not wear much jewelry, usually just a watch and my rings, and I try whenever possible in the summer to leave my watch behind, but wearing these older pieces somehow reminds me of those bygone eras and of the very special people who wore them before me…..hidden treasures.
Aristotle tells us the highest activity in life is contemplation and he advocates virtuous friendships along the way to teach us the paths to that contemplation.  Friendships are a treasure.  Today, I spoke with a friend, my sister-in-law, who recently had a near miss in losing her life to a tornado.  It is amazing how when something like that happens, one begins to look at life much differently.   My sister-in-law has had that experience this past month and together in a phone conversation today, we have begun to re-realize how fragile this life on earth actually is and how treasured friendships actually are.  We are only here a short time.  
calvin and hobbes friends
We are born, we grow, we marry and have children, they grow and marry and have children, and we grow older.  Time does seem to pass more rapidly as one gets older.  Last Christmas, I put together a book of Christmas carols for our parish and included a brief history of each carol.  One of the things that struck me while doing it was that every author of every carol was now dead.  Good Christian men, who were often leaders or giants in their day, but today, all are dead.   Life on earth is short, but friendships are an enduring blessing and a treasure.  They help us to unlock the mysteries.
Another hidden treasure came to light the past few weeks when two family members discovered their infant son was critically ill with a rare disease.  It was unbelievable how many people rallied behind them with prayer and support.  Even total strangers added them to their regular prayer chains.  The disease is horrible of course, and the family disruption extremely taxing, but the love that surrounded and continues to surround this young couple and their family is an overwhelming treasure.
illness image
The Scriptures are a treasure, one that keeps revealing our God Most High in new and wonderful ways.  This past week, I discovered how differently some people read those timeless Words.  My understanding of the message of Jesus since my youth has been that he opened wide the gates of heaven for all members of the human race, those of the chosen race, those who came before the chosen race, and those Gentiles who came after them.  Many who followed Jesus became members of his church, but many still did not, and still do not today.  Adam and Eve sinned long before there was a covenant, either Noahide or Mosaic, or a Christian Church.  The “Exultet” sung on Holy Saturday, proclaims “O felix culpa” or “O happy fault” referring to that original sin in the Garden of Eden that would lead to the promise of redemption and the coming of the Messiah.  I came across a theologian this week, who reminded me how valuable this inclusive approach to reading the Scriptures truly is.  He approached these sacred words with a "us and them" stance, those in the covenant and those who are not, those in the church and those who are not.  Today, I think one of the hidden treasures in our faith quest is that we are no longer afraid to journey to the Holy One with others.  Learning of another’s faith does not diminish our own; in fact it usually makes us more committed.  Our common humanity and our common search for the Holy One makes our scriptures one of our most valuable treasures.
There are hidden treasures all around us.  We simply have to pay attention.  What are yours this week?

Blog 5/29/2013

 A reflection on Memorial Day…..
This past weekend has been a whopper at our home this year.  Not only were we trying to remember all the sacrifices our service men and women have given that we may enjoy our freedoms, but one of our daughters and her family including two toddlers, ages one and two, came for a visit from the Washington D. C. area.   Our grandson celebrated his first birthday on the same day that Bill’s dad celebrated his 94th, so we had a wonderful family party, and in the midst of all that, our local parish was hosting its annual 4-day festival, so we were trying to juggle working in “booths” and “nap times” for  our grandsons with visits back and forth with the children and the faith community.  
Add to all that, we had high winds and it poured copious amounts of rain three out of the four days, and of course, on that last sunny day, Erin and her family had to head back to D.C.   We all were less than pleased with the weather and the little ones ran outside only for brief moments between the raindrops to see the baby goats and the baby ducks and baby chickens and the new puppy, when we had thought they could have had lots more fun with them had the days been sunny.   Our planned outdoor cook-out became an indoor cook-in, and when one of my ovens broke in the middle of cooking the chicken, part of dinner got a bit delayed.  Thankfully, I do have two ovens though.  We complained about the weather and wished it had been sunnier, but last night, we learned that our sister-in-law in Nebraska was just hit by a tornado and lost her entire barn and Quanset hut and part of her home, though no one got hurt.  Last week, we also witnessed the devastation of another tornado in Oklahoma in which many people not only got hurt, but perished.  There are floods in the mid-west and a bridge collapsed in Seattle plunging cars into the waters below.  When one hears all that news, a spoiled cook-out or a broken oven seems like child’s play.  One's perspective and balance is, all of a sudden, clarified.  And one begins to see more clearly.
In 1942, Norman Rockwell captured
some of the freedoms we celebrate
on Memorial Day in his famous paintings
of the four freedoms:
freedom of speech,
freedom of worship,
freedom from want, 
and freedom from fear.
At the same time, we give thanks to the five branches of our miitary who seek to protect those four freedoms and many more for us:
When calamities occur, even minor ones, sometimes it seems that is God’s way of getting our attention.  It is a way for us to focus on what is really important.  Our sister-in-law is OK; our daughter and her husband and their two sons had the opportunity to visit and got home safely; the festival was a huge success, despite the weather; and even with chicken delayed, we were able to break bread together and eat our cake and ice cream, too.
face of prayer.400
There were also parades around town to celebrate Memorial Day, but I think the day allowed us not only to remember those who gave the ultimate gift for our protection, but also to pray for those who currently serve in the military, including one of our son-in-laws, and a nephew, and their families, and so many more.  We thank God for these wonderful men and women who guard our freedom, but we also thank God for creating us in the first place as people who thirst for freedom, and find it most securely in the hand and heart of the Holy One.

Blog 5/12/2013

Mother’s Day, 2013
Mother’s day is traditionally a day of hearts and flowers for our mothers, sharing brunch together, and sometimes reminiscing about when the children were younger.  For those of us whose mothers have passed, it also becomes a day of prayer and memories.  My own mother went home to God a few years ago.  She lived in Milwaukee where I grew up, but Bill and I moved east over forty years ago.  We didn’t get to see each other as much as we would have liked after we moved, but we regularly talked on the phone, every few weeks.  I miss those phone calls.  I often think of a trip the two of us made shortly after my Dad passed away…..just the two of us went to Ireland.   Those memories are especially dear.  Today I talk with her in heaven.
In Catholic circles, Mother’s Day is also a day to honor Mary, our spiritual mother as well.  May crownings are still being held and we Catholics are known to turn to Mary often to ask her assistance in giving God our “fiat” like she did once so long ago in Nazareth.  We have a small statue of Mary here at MV, down by the daffodils and the goat yard and chicken yard.  I can see it from my kitchen window and often while raising our children, I said a small prayer at that window that she might impart to me some of her motherly wisdom.  Mary is such a blessing for us.
This year, I had an unusual experience of motherhood that taught me more about parenting and the length mothers go to care for their young.  While I have given birth four times and adopted three beautiful children, all now wonderful adults, and have even witnessed the childbirth of one of my grandchildren, the process of birthing continues to amaze me.  On the animal front here this year, we have had baby chicks and baby ducks and baby goats, and this week, I not only witnessed how mothers in the animal kingdom mother, I actually had to help our goat, Julian, to deliver a difficult breech birth.  Julian’s kidding came earlier that we expected.  We thought she would kid the end of May, so we weren’t even looking yet for signs of labor last Saturday, the 4th of May.  We had just moved down our larger chicken tractor to the chicken’s summer yard about 4 o’clock in the afternoon when I happened to glance over at the goats on my way back up to the house.  I saw Julian in labor and panicked a bit.  We had nothing ready and she was giving birth outside.  I ran to the house, grabbed some towels and washcloths and a jug of warm water and called Bill and then my neighbor, who has delivered many puppies over the years.  By the time we got back to Julian, baby # 1 was already here, a little doeling, sitting in the sunshine besides mom.  
Julian was straining and a foot was already coming for baby #2, so Bill scooped up baby #1 and we guided Julian and her baby into the shed.  When she got into the shed, however, everything stopped.  No more than one foot would come out.  After figuring out something must be wrong, we decided to call the vet.  When I got a hold of her, she was an hour away and said she would come immediately but she might have to talk me through delivering the baby kid on my own or we could lose the baby and possibly Julian as well.  We discovered baby #2 was not only breech, but upside down as well (goats are usually born front feet first, sort of tucked over their head…think of diving off a diving board into a pool…your arms are up over your head and when you jump, you make one straight curved line to the water).  Well, baby #2 had one back leg out, the other back leg bent up somewhere and it was coming belly up, not back up.  So, Dr. K. told me to don some rubber gloves and wash my hands, then push the one foot back in and then with my hand try to find the other leg and straighten it, and then try to align it with the first leg and guide them both out.  I have never done anything like that before (remember we are relatively new at raising goats), but I think it was Dr. K’.s comment that the hour might make the difference on whether this baby lived or died and Julian might be in danger, that motivated me to step up to the plate.  I did find the other foot, and aligned the two legs, and since baby goat was coming upside down, I think it was harder on Julian, but a few minutes later I was pulling baby #2 out, a little buckling (should have known…boys are always more trouble) and he was alive.
 No sooner was he out when Julian began to lick him off and clean him up, and then he stood up and took his first few steps, and we guided him toward his first breakfast.  Mom and babies at this writing are doing fine.  We decided to call the little doeling Sunshine, since she was born in the sun outdoors, and we named the little buckling, Micah, after the prophet.  We were hoping for at least one boy with this kidding, since Julian is a different genetic line, he will be good to breed with the other does that are not of his line.
The experience of assisting at a breech birth, even of a goat, reminded me of one of my daughters who also decided to jump into this world feet first a long time ago.  I remember the doctors trying to turn her, too, but her determination not to turn was her way of insisting that feet first was how she planned to enter this world.   That was back in the day before breech births immediately skipped to C-sections, so our beautiful daughter arrived as she intended, jumping into the world.  I think I understood Julian a little better last Saturday.  Goats cannot talk and communicate in the same way that we do, but as Rousseau used to tell us, we can learn a lot by observing nature.  Julian is very protective of her babies, is feeding and cleaning them regularly, and getting some well deserved rest now apart from the herd for a while.  
Julian and Micah
God’s design for mothering and parenting always makes one stand in awe, and while human birthing and mothering may be eons away from a goat’s kidding, how many, many more eons must separate human mothering and parenting from the tremendous way God mothers us and parents us.  I am reminded how we are all connected and have our place in this universe by a 1927 poem by Max Ehrmann, Desiderata:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Julian and M and S

Blog 5/1/2013


May Day…..May 1, 2013


If one looks up May Day, one gets a variety of explanations: it is the first day of May, or it is some day in May, or it is to signal spring has arrived, or it is even a signal that summer is not far off after a long winter.  It is listed as a Celtic pre-Christian day, or a very Christian day that gets associated the Blessed Virgin Mary once Christianity arrives.  Several countries have their own celebrations of the day and/or foods to add to the festivities.  Only in Communist countries does the day have something to do with work.  Other countries are making May baskets, or dancing around a May pole, or decking themselves and/or their homes with May flowers.  It is a kind of joyful spring holiday.


Here at MV, we have not celebrated May Day as such, but the month of May has long been set aside at Mary’s month or that time of year to honor the Mother of Christ.  There are May Crownings at various Catholic parishes, meaning parishioners crown Mary’s statue with a garland of flowers to remind each other that she is their spiritual mother.   Sometimes those May crownings are linked to First Communions, when our children receive the Eucharist for the very first time.  Spring is a time to celebrate new life, but also it seems a time to celebrate innocence.  When our children were small, we tried praying the rosary every night after supper, and even got them each their own version of a rosary booklet to follow the mysteries.  
The rosary is a prayer of meditations on the life of Christ that one says while fingering the beads and reciting prayers in a mantra fashion.  The family that prays together stays together, right?  I remember tales from our family history about that family rosary long ago.  When my husband’s French-Canadian grandmother, affectionately called Grand-Memere, decided it was time to pray the family rosary, that meant EVERYONE, even if one’s non-Catholic friends came calling you out to play.  All got somewhat corralled into kneeling down and praying those prayers with Our Lady.  As the children grew up and got busier in our house, it became harder and harder to pull everyone together after supper for those prayers; it became harder and harder to even have supper together.  Many today, however, are calling for that family meal together to make a comeback.  There is tremendous value in a family sitting down at table all together to share the day.  In Catholic homes, it may also be time for that family rosary to make a comeback.  Our world today seems in such need of healing and prayer.


I read about a wonderful practice today that was announced in the month of May about making May baskets…..only these were to be called St. Margaret baskets.  Named after St. Margaret, an 11th century saint who was the Queen of Scotland, St. Margaret was the mother of eight children and went out of her way to take care of the poor.  She also sometimes invited the poor to dine with her.  
basket of food.resized
This one particular farm, Renaissance Farms, which sells Farm Shares in the western part of the state (a practice in which one pays up front for a weekly basket of fresh produce during the growing season) , was suggesting that people donate $10 to make up a St. Margaret Basket of produce to go to families in need or to various shelters in the Worcester, MA area from June through October.  Their website is found at:    What a marvelous idea for celebrating Mary’s month, to let others in need know that they were being cared for by other members in the community!  Here, at MV, we are nowhere near as large as Renaissance farms, and do not offer Farm Shares, but we should have more than we need if the weather cooperates.  As a way of honoring our Lady, it sounds like a wonderful practice to begin, also from June through October, that we make up at least one basket of fresh veggies, fruits and/or berries, even eggs each week and take it to a local family shelter in the next town.  May day, 2013, can be our way of giving back to the community, and of reminding ourselves that Mary, Our spiritual mother, would do no less.  Praise God!