My two patron saints: Saint Scholastica and Saint Veronica

Today, I’m grateful for my beloved patron saints! Yes, I’ve decided I have two of them 😉 and I’ll explain why…

The first is the saint I chose for my confirmation saint, Saint Scholastica. She was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, and according to Saint Gregory the Great, she was “as devoted to Christ as she was to her brother.”

Saint Scholastica

I come from a family who valued the son, my brother, more than the daughters, and I grew up in an environment where the thoughts and aspirations of my sisters and I were given short shrift. We were raised in the culture described in this article.

Men interrupt women, speak over them, and discount their contributions to a discussion with surprising regularity.

…Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse, and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

…A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

This is something I’ve struggled against my whole life — an environment and culture that dismisses and belittles women and their work. So many scholars and scientists and artists never acknowledged, their contributions ignored or appropriated by men. And Saint Scholastica?

Unlike her brother, Saint Scholastica was never the subject of a formal biography. As such, little is known of her life apart from her commitment to religious life which paralleled that of her brother.

But rather than harboring grievances and bitterness, I’ve always believed women need to assert themselves in a different manner than men, create a different and more loving, inclusive culture than the one we now inhabit. It is said that Saint Scholastica was “a sister of such angelic gentleness of character, that she would be a sort of counterpoise to the brother, whose vocation, as the legislator of monastic life, needed a certain dignity of grave and stern resolve.” Saint Scholastica is often depicted with a dove, a symbol of her gentle compassion, and of her departing, recounted here:

Scholastica used to come once a year to visit Benedict, at a house situated halfway between the two communities.

Saint Benedict’s biographer recounted a story which is frequently told about the last such visit between the siblings. They passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation – after which Scholastica begged her brother to remain for the night, but he refused.

She then joined her hands together, laid them on the table and bowed her head upon them in supplication to God. When she lifted her head from the table, immediately there arose such a storm that neither Benedict nor his fellow monks could leave.

“Seeing that he could not return to his abbey because of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain,” Pope Gregory wrote, “the man of God became sad and began to complain to his sister, saying, ‘God forgive you, what have you done?'”

“‘I wanted you to stay, and you wouldn’t listen,’ she answered. ‘I have asked our good Lord, and He graciously granted my request, so if you can still depart, in God’s name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone.'” Saint Benedict had no choice but to stay and speak to his sister all night long about spiritual matters – including the kingdom of heaven for which she would soon depart.

Three days later in the year 543, in a vision Benedict saw the soul of his sister, departed from her body and in the likeness of a dove, ascend into heaven. He rejoiced with hymns and praise, giving thanks to God. His monks brought her body to his monastery and buried it in the grave that he had provided for himself. Saint Benedict followed her soon after, and was buried in the same grave with his sister.

So, at Easter Vigil, Saint Scholastica and her brother, Saint Benedict, were added to our prayer of the Litany of the Saints. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he. Since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.”

green leaf

Right before the Easter Vigil, I privately chose a second patron saint as well, because Father instructed me, as penance at my first confession, to “pray to Saint Veronica”. He said that Saint Veronica could show me how to bravely step out from the crowd to offer compassion to others. Such a beautiful talk Father had with me about her, and such a moving penance he gave me!

Saint Veronica

I’ve grown very fond of Saint Veronica, and often pray to her now, as well as to Saint Scholastica. And both these saints are such wonderful examples of compassion and gentleness, and especially of selfless work for others, relying on God as their all.

My Saint Veronica medal.

My Saint Veronica medal.

“i thank You God…”

Here is a beautiful poem from one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings, which expresses so perfectly the depth of my gratitude for Spring, what I’m most thankful for this week!

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any – lifted from the no

of all nothing – human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

leaping greenly

Snarky atheist

This week I’m so grateful for my dear husband and I’ve been reminded of how precious our marriage is to me. We’ve been married for 35 years this June, and are so comfortable and happy together. Yes, he’s an atheist, and a snarky one at that! But, just as I’ve frequently reminded him of late that I’ve always been religious, and was when we first met (so he shouldn’t be surprised at my recent rediscovered interest in Christianity), so too I need to remind myself that he’s always been an atheist as well.

A couple of atheist commandments...

A couple of atheist commandments…

He joined us when my oldest son and I began exploring Buddhism (wow, that was about 17 years ago!) because that isn’t a theistic religion, and because Buddhism has many useful tools that anyone can use, such as mind training and meditation. But of course he’s not going to join me in my interest in Catholicism.

On the other hand, although he’s become snarky about his atheism (which snarkiness began during the George W. Bush years due to the shift within conservatism toward anti-science and toward polarizing and hate-filled rhetoric) he’s never been snarky to me. He’s been a bit puzzled, but still very respectful and sweet. 🙂

So, this week’s gratitude journal has been filled with references to Jim. He was traveling last week, and just got home Monday, so of course I missed him. And then yesterday was my birthday, we had a sweet birthday celebration, Jim gave me a new iPod Touch, and a book I’d been wanting — in book form, rather than on kindle, because it has lovely pictures — Abraham Lincoln and the Jews. Can’t wait to read!

And we had a lovely dinner with the boys. Wine and cheese and salmon, and delicious cupcakes for dessert. So delightful!

Here’s hoping for another 35 years! 😀

Grateful for my dear local church…

Another Gratituesday rolls around, and this week I have so many things that I’ve been grateful for, that I’ll just focus on the Easter-related ones! 😀

  • I’m grateful for the beautiful Easter vigil service, and for the opportunity to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and for the others who also were baptized and confirmed last Saturday.
  • I’m grateful that I stuck with it all the way through the RCIA program, even though at times I wondered what on earth I was doing, why this was such a long, involved process (I’d truly expected that at most there’d be a couple weeks of study and then I’d be welcomed into the church) and considering my ADD whether I’d lose interest over the months of study! (I didn’t.)
  • I’m grateful for how lovely our little church is, with its many stained glass windows, and especially adorned with Easter flowers.
  • I’m grateful that our church celebrates mass every day, so there are many opportunities for me to attend.

One of the sweetest parts of Saturday’s service was during the Gloria, when the children ran up to the front of the church carrying the donated flowers, and handed them to a couple of adults who placed them around the altar, and then the children hurried to the back again to pick up more bouquets and carry them up front. It lasted a good 10 minutes at least, with so many flowers! It was so delightful!

Child with basket of flowers

I’m still contemplating Saturday’s vigil, it so impressed me and was so lovely…

Gratitude journal

This past Sunday I began a gratitude journal — just a moleskin I keep in my purse to jot down a minimum of three things a day that I’m grateful for.

Here’s what I’ve written so far (two days’ worth), and the journal has definitely been successful in putting a smile on my face!

Barn I pass on my walk

Barn I pass on my walk

  • I’m grateful for the beautiful walk in my neighborhood, that I can take every day if I choose.
  • I’m grateful for the warmer weather and the buds and birds I now get to see on my walk.
  • I’m grateful for my dear husband and our lovely home that we enjoy.
  • I’m grateful for Father’s kindness at my first confession, leading me through it so it ended up being a positive experience.
  • I’m grateful for the beauty and serenity of the little sanctuary of our local church, its stained glass windows, the airiness, the large, solemn crucifix, the glowing stillness of the tabernacle candle. It is wonderful to meditate there.
  • I’m grateful for my collection of songs and hymns that I can play in the car while driving back and forth to town and sing loudly along with. Also grateful for the familiar, happy songs playing right now in the mall while I’m writing this [in the journal]: Eagles’ Taking It Easy, Bruce Springstein’s The Promised Land, and The Train They Call the City of New Orleans.
  • I love meals with my boys! Just had a lovely sushi dinner with my youngest [Sunday night].

I think I’ll start posting a few things I’m grateful for, every Tuesday. 🙂

“All have sinned and fall short…”

It’s taken me a long time to answer last week’s RCIA questions, and perhaps you’ll see why:

What has Jesus done to save me?

What is God doing to save me?

Those questions are at the same time deeply personal, and somewhat generic. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Christianity knows the “generic” answer to at least the first question, and many Christians can probably quote some pertinent Bible verses.

It’s only recently that salvation has become personal for me. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Saint Augustine) Although blessed with so much, I felt empty until I returned to God. And that’s what Jesus has done to save me. His saving act upon the cross allows us to return to God, it bridges that separation, it enables that close, fulfilling relationship with God.

Throughout those years when I’d left Christianity and “dabbled” in Buddhism, it was as if I were subconsciously trying to work out my own salvation. I knew I was a sinner, feeling exactly as Paul did when he said (in his letter to the Romans):

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7: 15-20)

I could have said all of that, I was that frustrated with myself! The thing is, Buddhism does not believe in sin or evil, so any wrong thoughts or actions that one does, are supposed to be worked out on the meditation cushion. Calm your mind, and you will eventually no longer react angrily. Be mindful, live in the moment, and eventually you will no longer think impatient thoughts. Meditate on impermanence and you will no longer lust after people or things (because they’re impermanent, after all!) Meditate on your own death, and you will no longer fear death…

Now, I’m not saying this doesn’t work for some people (and I definitely met many calm, peaceful, happy Buddhists!) but I knew it wasn’t working for me. I was the same, sinful me after a decade of daily meditation as I was going in! The only thing different, was my despair at my feelings of emptiness and what I termed “spinning my wheels”. If I could have put it into words, I’d have said, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

And I also felt a desperate, almost despairing, need to believe in God! And although I felt the separation from God in my life, I also felt the potential for closeness, often while I was meditating — that thrill when the quiet in a room anticipates a sound, rather than dead silence. After awhile I could no longer deny that Presence. I could no longer deny my need for God. I need God to fill that emptiness and longing in my life. I need God to thank with overflowing gratitude for my blessings! I especially need God so that I can quit the endless, useless spinning of my wheels.

In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7: 22-25)

We hear as children, “God is Love”, but I needed to experience that first-hand before I could believe it. For the first time I feel and believe I am loved and forgiven by God. I’m not sure what changed, except making small decisions to believe. To believe I could pray to Mary and she would hear my pleas for change in my life. To believe that the Presence I detect, and have been conscious of at moments throughout my life, is God’s Presence. To believe that the voice in my heart that is nudging me in certain directions is God’s Voice. To believe that my prayers and thoughts and gratitude and love for God are received. And to believe that this movement out of despair and lostness and toward God’s love and acceptance will continue.

God's Presence

And it is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice that I can be accepted back! “Just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5: 21) I am so happy that I finally get it! 🙂

And emphasis on God’s wonderful kindness! It’s: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Not “for God was so annoyed at the world”, or “for God so despaired of the world”, or “for God was so angry at the world”. Those reactions would have been justified, but I never experienced that from God when I returned to him. I only felt love and happiness! God freely gives of himself! It was Christ’s free gift that saves us! “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (John 10: 17-18)

And I recognize that this is an ongoing process. I lay down my sinful self before Christ in the Eucharist, and he atones for my and others’ sins. I constantly try to die to my sinful self, and instead live for Christ in me. I hope to continue to serve him the rest of my days. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness!”

Seven Great Blessings of the Rosary

In The Secret of the Rosary Saint Louis de Montfort informs us:

The Rosary recited with meditation on the mysteries brings about the following marvelous results:

  1. It gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ;
  2. It purifies our souls, washing away sin;
  3. It gives us victory over all our enemies;
  4. It makes it easy for us to practice virtue;
  5. It sets us on fire with love of Our Blessed Lord;
  6. It enriches us with graces and merits;
  7. It supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces for us from Almighty God.

On this Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary, I’m filled with thankfulness to Our Lady and Her Rosary! It is definitely what led me back to Jesus and the Church. As I mentioned in a previous post, when I began praying to Mary I was not at all sure of my own beliefs, and very hesitant about getting back into Christianity, but she led me quickly and surely to Our Lord. For that she has all the gratitude and love I’m capable of!

Our Lady with Roses

Aside from how beautifully contemplative and worshipful the Rosary prayers are, and how undoubtedly they would lead one to Jesus since all the Mysteries are Jesus-centered, I love the Rosary because of the trust it has instilled in me. I have come to trust Our Lady’s promises, and through her, I’ve come to trust Our God and His promises.

What I’ve learned through this gradual growth in trust, is how all of this is a gift. Our lives are a gift, this beautiful world is a gift, our salvation is a gift, faith is a gift, our Father’s love is a gift. Any “graces and merits”, such as Saint Louis de Montfort mentions above, are gifts. I’m so used to trying to do it all myself (and Buddhism is definitely a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” religion) that being showered with all these gifts is almost overwhelming.

And I now realize I can’t pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I can’t do this myself. I now feel like a child holding my Mother’s hand and just walking with her wherever she leads. I know that my own efforts didn’t get me to where I need to go, so I now trust my Mother to get me there along her path.

And I’ve found that increasingly easy to do. First she led me to her Son, and then to His Church, and all that she’s led me to has been an incredible, bountiful gift! Why she would so bless me, I don’t know. I guess because she’s our Mother and loves nothing more than the happiness of her children, which comes through bringing them to her Son…

I pray the Rosary every day, and often as part of a novena. Usually the novenas have particular requests as part of the prayers, and I do add these petitions. But I’ve found that part of this new-found trust is a ready willingness to leave this all in God’s and our Mother’s hands. Even my own personal, pressing matters, such as my children’s health, I no longer feel overwhelmed by, and find that praying the Rosary and novenas makes it easy to relinquish all my needs and worries.

If you’re not yet praying Our Lady’s Rosary, please give it a try! For me, there has been no better way to develop a childlike trust. And if you’d like to study about the Rosary, check out the book pictured in the sidebar, as well as the Popes’ encyclicals on the Rosary.