Welcome to our archived site of the work of CGS at All Saints Parish up to April of 2018!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Since joining a Rosary of Moms a few years ago, praying at least "my decade" of the Rosary (and usually more) has become a habit for me and my family. When I was growing up, the parish we belonged to ALWAYS recited the Rosary before mass each Sunday (at All Saints this happens before weekday masses!) and if we were early enough, we might get in a decade or two. Other than that, we didn't usually pray the Rosary growing up. I became convinced in my early 20s that this powerful devotion needed to be part of my family's life.

I've tried a million times to get my little kids involved in praying a family rosary somehow. I tried lots of tricks.

  • When my oldest was little, I tried counting out the right amount of blocks and give her one block at a time (one for each prayer we said) as we prayed together and she'd build a church or something out of it.
  • I would get pictures for them to look at while we were praying the mysteries. I found videos online that scrolled through pictures relating to the mysteries that we were praying that day.
  • We'd sing a related song at the beginning of each decade after announcing the mystery. (Now I know that Pope St. John Paul II suggests singing the "Glory Be" at the end of each mystery, too!)

With little David, 2, we haven't used any of those "tricks" we used to get our other children involved. In typical toddler fashion, he has taught us what is the most essential thing about the Rosary. David has taken his own part, and he loves it so much that he regularly reminds me (in the car, of course) to pray.  David taught us the most important and central focus of the Rosary. Jesus!

We will pray: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb..."

And David will call out: "JESUS!"

Of course! Jesus is the center of the Hail Mary. He is the center of the Mysteries of the Rosary. He was the center of Mary's life. David proclaims this with so much joy each time we recite a Hail Mary. Just a warning, though: don't get into a rhythm and forget to leave him his very important word. He will interrupt your "Holy Mary" with a very strong reminder that it is "MY Jesus!"

This is my final Faith Formation Begins at Home article in the bulletin. Many have asked if I will continue to write. Yes! You can find my future posts at faithformationbeginsathome.blogspot.com.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Rocking with Momma

"Mom, do we have to pray the rosary? It's just the same thing over and over. It's so boooorrring."

I know you will all be disappointed to know that the same child who "figured out life" when she was five and realized that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep, asked me this question this week at ten years old. I find it consoling that she is able to be honest with her momma and call it as she sees it. Prayer is boring sometimes. Why should we pray the rosary?

We were driving down Keo Way in Des Moines and had just finished the fourth decade of the sorrowful mysteries. I was having a somewhat difficult day emotionally and was totally melting into this prayer, so her question brought me up short. Suddenly I had an image that I thought might help.

"Do you remember when you were young and would climb up on my lap?"

"Yes," she replied.

"Well," I began, "what if I put you up on my lap, held you close, and rocked you back and forth and set you back down? Would that have been enough? Or would you rather have rocked with me for longer? What would you have done if I just set you right back down?"

"Longer. If you just set me down, I would want you to pick me up again."

"It wouldn't be too repetitive to just rock back and forth for 20 minutes with your mamma?"

"Of course not," she chuckles.

"I think for me, the rosary is like sitting on Mary's lap and rocking back and forth and back and forth. She tells me soft stories about Jesus, maybe what happened the day he died. Maybe she tells about the great day he rose and of how he honored her with a crown in heaven. She holds me in her arms as we rock back and forth and think about Jesus together. She tells me how much she loves him, and I love him, too."

We didn't finish our fifth decade before I dropped her off for school that morning, but I could see the wheels spinning in her head. Maybe on her own she'll climb up and rock on her Mamma Mary's lap before the day is through.

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Sucker Punch Sunday"

My husband joined the Church as an adult, so sometimes his perspective is different than my "cradle" perspective. A perfect example was the first year that he came to Palm Sunday Mass with me. The whole parish gathered in the parish hall and the priest read the Gospel story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We all waved our palm branches and began the procession into the Church. There was joy, there was praise.

I imagine my poor husband's heart was exactly in the same place as those people in Jerusalem two millennia ago. Sure, Matt knew that Good Friday was coming, but he was able to set that aside and enjoy the beauty of this moment.

Then things escalated quickly. The reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday during the regular gospel time was a shock to him in a way I had not experienced as a Catholic who grew up with this rhythm. In a way, the shock of the city turning against its Messiah was lost on me. My husband was quite shaken up, though. He said it felt like he was punched in the gut. The betrayal, coming so close to the elated welcome, took his breath away. Really, it should do the same to everyone.

The crucifix that stands at the front of all of our churches runs the risk of becoming ordinary and commonplace if we don't allow that "sucker punch" to shock us into awareness of what really happened. Easter is coming, it is true, but Good Friday comes first. I hope we will all live these days fully so as to truly experience what resurrection means.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Everyone at the Table

This week (Monday-Saturday) several catechists in the parish and some people from neighboring parishes and even states gathered in the basement of All Saints for Part II of a seminal course for Infant-Toddler Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The "aha" moments as of this writing (Tuesday morning) have been many, but I wanted to talk the most about the concept of communal meals and very small children.

Our formation leader described a Montessori toddler environment where these small children eat at a table together, eventually setting the table and serving each other their meals or snacks. In one example, the toddlers had a small dish of food from which they would serve their own plates. The table had a tablecloth and the children ate very quietly and enjoyed the community they were a part of.

She pointed out again how the youngest child is like a sponge: absorbing everything in their environment without a filter. An adult doesn't need to say much to a child in order for a child to learn what kind of a culture he is in.

This reminded me of the great formational importance of the family meal! When we sit together with our children at table, we are not just meeting our individual needs for food. We are also meeting a communal need to belong in community, to share this experience, and the child's great need to learn how to be with others.

Perhaps we could make our meals even more a blessing to our families by making a small change: instead of finishing each meal by someone asking to be excused, the family could say a final prayer of gratitude before "going out" to the rest of their day. It's such a small thing to start out a child's life with these little, gentle cues, but they could make a lifetime worth of difference. It is said that "the one who belongs doesn't misbehave." How can we make our infants and toddlers and young children feel as though they belong at the table?

Prayer after meals:
Thank you, O Lord, for these Thy gifts,
which we have received from Thy bounty,
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Now and Tomorrow

As the children in Level III (4th-6th grades) were preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation last week, I think I counted 7 independent fist pumps and audible "Yesssss!" responses. These children love them some sacramental grace! Not everyone felt that way, though. There were a couple of children who remarked that they didn't need to go because "I haven't sinned that much" since last time. A few just felt that they were doing okay and didn't need to go.

"Really?" I asked them. "Do you really want to miss out on the chance for supernatural power?"

This bought me a few furrowed brows, but it got their attention.

"Think about it," I told them. "This is our special opportunity to go to God, through the ministry of the priest, to ask for supernatural power (which we usually call grace) to help us where we struggle. Do you ever have a hard time with anything?"

"Well," one boy responded, "school for sure. And when I have to take care of my baby sister and she's crying."

"What happens?" I wondered.

"I get frustrated and angry. That's when I act the way I don't want to act."

"You know," I told him, "the word sin comes from the word meaning 'to miss the mark', like in archery. Sometimes we aren't aiming at all, and sometimes we're aiming for the bullseye, but we miss. Like what happens when you get angry... But do you want help from God to do better?" He nodded slowly.

"The Sacrament of Reconciliation isn't just a way to fix the past and start again, it's a way to start again with God's help! You can point the priest straight to the place where you need strength or healing to be able to make a better response next time something hard happens. Do you want God's power to help you make the next best choice today and tomorrow?"  That particular young boy didn't answer me. He just got up and got in line for the confessional!

Sometimes we avoid the Sacrament of Reconciliation because we think it is about the past. We either think that we weren't so bad, or that we were too bad "back then" to be forgiven. Either way, we miss the point. Reconciliation isn't about yesterday. It's about now and tomorrow.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Oh, You Can't Get to Heaven

I attended my first course at St. Meinrad School of Theology last week! The course, called "Human Development and Christian Maturity," is designed to be part of the certificate in spiritual direction offered by the school, and it was a very interesting springboard for thought concerning my own life in God and in community.

As a woman nearing the big 4-0 in the next year, this course was impeccably timed. I have heard of the infamous "mid-life crisis," but I didn't really understand what the psychology behind it was. I thought it was about fearing death or mourning from this feeling like you're heading downhill. Actually, it's a natural turning point in our lives that most people aren't prepared for.

The way our teacher described it (pulling on people like Erikson, Jung, and St. Teresa of Avila), we spend the first half of our lives building ourselves into who we are. Hopefully, during this time we have arrived at a stable Christian life. By this time, we hope that we're decently virtuous, avoiding sin as best we can, and praying like a good Christian does. Most people get a little comfortable and might even think that's the goal, the end, the maintenance point. Just keep living like that until the end, and you'll be O-K.

Then things get a little crazy.

The next process in Human (and Christian) Development is a total swing of momentum. Much like the image of the hill (and being "over the hill) suggests, it starts to feel like more is happening to a person, than it feels like a person is making something happen. The first half of the ride is climbing hard, and the second half feels a lot like falling, or maybe like jumping out of an airplane. It starts to feel like I'm not the boss of me.

In St. Teresa of Avila's book Interior Castle, she discusses the move to the fourth mansion (exactly half way through her 7 mansions) as a big shift in just Who is in charge of the movement forward. Basically, God takes over from here and the human person needs to learn trust and abandonment to God's action. "Oh, you can't get to heaven in a limousine," as the old song says, "'cause the Lord don't sell no gasoline." At a certain point in the Christian life, you can't depend on the gas that got you there before. Prayer and devotion to spiritual practice get harder. The things that used to bring you joy, won't anymore. It isn't a sign that you are doing something wrong and that you need to turn back and find your way. It may be a very good sign that you are about to find a totally new path unlike any you've traversed before!

When you experience this, it can be tough to understand it based on how things have always been before. Usually, "midage" is about the time people seek out spiritual directors. This is a tough transition sometimes, and one not many people talk about. The singer of that old song begs: "If you get to heaven before I do, just dig a hole and pull me through!" It is a great thing to find someone who's "been there, done that" to help pull us through when things stop making sense. There's more on the other side of the hill. More than you can ask or imagine.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This, Too, Shall Pass

When I was in college, I remember one particular day when I called home to talk to my mom. I was going through a particularly challenging time, and could use a shoulder to cry on (even if it was a couple hundred miles away). Since this was before the days when everyone had a cell phone, my dad answered the house phone.

He asked what was up, and instead of saving my tears for Mom, I poured them out on my dad. It seemed like the whole world was ending, and he could probably hear it in my voice that I was a little too caught up in the details of this particular situation to see the big picture of life.

I remember that he did his best to comfort me in his own way, including pulling out time-tested, if cliché, idioms that he hoped would comfort me, such as: “In every life, a little rain must fall,” and "No one promised you a bed of roses," and other platitudes. I kind of groaned inwardly, hoping he would finish up and hand the phone off to Mom. But before he handed the phone over, he gave me one last thing to remember.

"I love you, honey, and remember, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

To be honest, I don’t remember anything else about that phone call. I only remembered those four words.

My parents hadn’t always had it easy. There were plenty of tough times. Yet, when I thought about it, somehow my parents always weathered the storm and ended up better than before. Dad wasn't just saying those words because he wanted to make me feel better now, but because it was exactly this kind of attitude--hope--which would lead to a better and brighter future.

When I sat in class for the rest of that semester, I wrote them on top of my notebooks, and decorated them with vines and flowers over and over. “This, too, shall pass…” And Dad was right, it did.

Over the years, this hope for joy and a future full of hope has never left me. Whenever I get mired down in the troubles of the world, I remember my dad’s promise that this is all temporary. Sometimes, when I see my children laughing and singing, or when I sit with my husband on the couch and listen to him talk excitedly about some big project, or when I know that the time is coming to say goodbye to people I love, I think of the other side of that little saying.  “This, too, shall pass.”  Yet even grief is a passing thing.

Now that Dad has a cell phone, I don’t “accidentally” receive his wisdom when I am calling my mom. She’s a fabulous font of wisdom, too, but as a man who has borne his share of suffering and struggle, he is a bulwark in my life. He is a man who can steadfastly look with hope to the future.  When I really need it most, he sustains my courage by his own example and deceptively simple words that go right to the heart of my life.