Why we do what we do

This morning, reading Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, I reflected on the question she and her team were asked by a facilitator brought in to conduct an offsite session to assess where they are and where they want to be, as writers for the Sunday Paper. They were asked “Why do you do this?” “To what end?”. Great questions for all of us. Why do we do what we do?

Many of you have shared in response to my posts from Maria that you started following her after I have shared her articles or that you admire her too. We post sunsets and flowers and graduation pictures. I have friends on “vacations”- one on a long trip to Israel visiting many of the holy sites I long to visit, others now returning from an incentive cruise to Norway as a result of great success with their stamp & paper crafting businesses and recently a group that traveled to Italy with my friend and author, Judith Valente, visiting lesser known Benedictine spiritual sites. I have enjoyed each and every picture they have shared from their journeys. I think we share those moments with each other to make a connection, to have companions for those special moments or to impart some information that we found helpful.

We recommend recipes and great restaurants because we want others to have the wonderful experience we had. We share the ordinary moments that make us smile, like my cats in their new cardboard box, which they won’t let me breakdown yet, or a friend who takes his dogs to establishments in Florida for lunch or refreshment and afternoon music. Are these things going to change the world? No, but they bring moments of happiness as we share them and as our friends participate, albeit virtually, in those moments with us. My morning posts of a coffee cup or an inspirational quote are not going to change your life, that’s for sure, but I hope it gives each of us a minute to pause and think about something pleasant in the world.

I share my love for essential oils, or a new system I have found to reduce pain and promote healing and restoration, because I want others to experience the same benefits I have found. Whether it’s health and well-being, kitchen items or jewelry, I believe that my friends are sharing these items because it brings them some delight or comfort. Maybe that’s what small communities used to be like. People set up their small businesses because they knew it was a trade they were good at and wanted to help others.

I am looking forward to reading a new book I found out about this week from author Kate Bowler, written by her former Yale professor Miroslav Volf, Life Worth Living; A Guide to What Matters Most. To be a complete fan girl of Maria Shriver today, she wrote opening comments to the book regarding her new venture, Open Field, and she said “We are all seeking the same things. We’re all seeking dignity. We’re all seeking joy….seeking to be seen, to be safe….We can all give each other these (spiritual) gifts if we share what we know-what has lifted us up and moved us forward.” Her new venture, Open Field, with Penguin Books is the publisher of this book. My initial sense of the book so far is that it asks all the Questions – questions that challenge us, inspire us to define what’s really important, face the limiting beliefs that prevent us from pursuing it and then start making the changes to get there.

Hopefully we do the work we do, paid or volunteer, because it brings us joy and fulfillment. At some point we must have reflected that it would be work we would enjoy or it is a gift or talent that we have. If it no longer does that, perhaps it’s a good time to ask why not and how we could change that activity to become more meaningful again. Or maybe it’s an opportunity to consider doing something new. It may be a stretch to think about a new venture. My transition from corporate life to ministry work has invited me to use a prayerful, discerning heart and mind over a rational, pragmatic one. It isn’t always easy to change but it may make a difference in each and every day of your life and potentially to the lives of those you impact on a daily basis.

Today is the Solemnity of Pentecost. We celebrate the birth of the Church with Mary and the Apostles but that continues to come alive each day in us. Ronald Rolheiser’s reflection in Give Us This Day for today, May 28, was poignant. He said “We are always dying in some ways, though never dead. We are always alive with new life. But we need to grieve what’s dead, adjust to the new, and let the old ascend. If we do this, Pentecost will happen in our lives. We will receive a new spirit for the life that we are, in fact, living.” Then he made a statement that perhaps is the answer I have been seeking for many years. He said that the Holy Spirit brings about the “dissatisfaction and restlessness” that we feel until our lives, and the spirit by which we are living them, is integrated and aligned. To that I say, Come Holy Spirit! Let us continue to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear or Respect of the Lord.

Peace be with you, Deena

Image created with PicMonkey


I am with you always

Today is Ascension Sunday in most dioceses. I can only imagine the feelings of the apostles as Jesus reminds them He will be with them always, that He will send the Holy Spirit but then leaves them again. They watched Him suffer and die, He appeared to them after rising from the dead. He taught them and then He was gone again.

I read a reflection this morning, from Conception Abbey, for Ascension Sunday, in which Fr. Martinez shares a connection between the Ascension and the anniversary of his mother’s passing. He shares that he and his siblings came to understand that their mother was always with them if they lived as she had raised them. I think we probably have all had that kind of experience after losing someone we loved.

I will always remember the first time I was going to start planting a garden, the Spring after my dad’s passing. I said “Ok Dad, let’s do this”. I got all my holes dug, tomato plants lined up and knelt down to begin the task of putting them in. I heard, as clearly as if he was standing behind me, “You forgot the MiracleGro!”. I laughed out loud, got up and headed to the garage and proceeded to plant them “correctly” as I watched him do for so many years!

Fr. Martinez concludes that the apostles, and us, as children of faith, do the same if we listen to and follow the ways of Jesus. I am sure the apostles heard Jesus’ voice in their hearts and minds at times after the Ascension, just as clearly as I heard my Dad’s voice in the garden. It is the spirit of our loved ones that lives with us and keeps them alive, always with us, in our hearts. It was with the coming of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were able to go on and be witnesses to Him throughout the world, to be the new body of Christ. The same is true for us.

During the Mass of the Ascension of our Lord, the Easter candle is extinguished. Jesus has ascended to the Father and the Easter season has concluded. The sanctuary light, by the tabernacle in every Catholic Church, reminds us that Jesus remains with us, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I have seen people walk in a church and genuflect toward the windows, the altar, and a variety of other directions. In newer church designs, it may be that they don’t know where the tabernacle is, so they are just kneeling toward the front which has the altar used for Mass. In other cases, it perhaps reflects that they don’t understand that we are kneeling, in reverence, to our Lord, present to us at all times in the Blessed Sacrament.

If you walk in a church and don’t know where the tabernacle, with Jesus is, just look for the red sanctuary candle. It burns at all times, until after The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday when Jesus is removed during the holy days of Triduum, until Easter Vigil. My aunt, a Franciscan sister, used to make the sign of the cross as my Mom would drive by a church between my house and my other aunts home, during her visits with us. I thought she was doing so because it was a church. It wasn’t until I understood my faith more and learned that she was doing so because Jesus was present in that church, as He is in all Catholic Churches, in the Blessed Sacrament, in the tabernacle.

My essential oil classmate, Pat Brockman Iannone, shared this beautiful photo from her trip to Jerusalem, that I am using today with her permission, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She wasn’t sure if there was a tabernacle by the hanging candle, but I did research to learn that there is an Orthodox tabernacle in the Church at the altar of Golgotha. Her photo reminds me of the older beautiful hanging sanctuary lights that were used in churches in Europe or older, more traditional design churches. Regardless of the style, the sanctuary lights remind us that Jesus said “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I still have a preference for Ascension on Thursday, old-fashioned I guess. It provides an opportunity to savor the 10 days of waiting for Pentecost. My team at work decided to take this time for a “mini-retreat” and pray a novena between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost with prayers to the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds as we continue discernment and work toward the official launch of Ignatian Ministries as a non-profit and our new website. This week, how might you reflect on the ways that Jesus is always with you and prepare for a deeper union with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.

Peace, Deena

Photo by Patricia Brockman Iannone. Pat is also an essential oil educator and practitioner. Her website is gingkotreehealing.com. GingkoTree Healing is also on Facebook.

Concluding Prayer of the Divine Praises: May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.


Just a few, but significant lines

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day today to those of you who are mothers, grandmothers and godmothers!

Yesterday after Mass, Barb, a family friend walked up to me to say hello and wanted to acknowledge that she knew Mother’s Day might be hard without my Mom. Their family lost their mom, Anne, not too long after my Mom died. It will be ten years this September, so nine Mother’s Days without her. It is kind of a melancholy day but I will buy a fern for her this week to hang by the porch as I have every year since we moved in the duplex. She had them growing up outside her family home and it was something she enjoyed here. Barb’s comment was thoughtful and I realized later how much I was moved by her kindness.

I spent a few moments looking at the scripture readings for this week and immediately found two passages to reflect on. The first one is one of my favorites in the entire Acts of the Apostles. I actually enjoy Acts, some find it tedious or boring, but it’s the life of the early Church so I find it helpful to reflect on all the apostles and early disciples were doing after Jesus ascended and left them with the Spirit to guide and inspire them. The first one is the first reading for the Mass tomorrow, for Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter. It is Acts 16: 11-15 and is a brief, 4-verse, story of Lydia, a dealer of purple cloth. She is a model and a guide to me as a woman in the church.

I can’t recall when that story first impacted me so deeply but it has been several years. We don’t know much about Lydia, except that she was called the dealer or business woman in the cloth trades, an expensive purple-dyed cloth. Was she a widow? Her husband isn’t mentioned by St. Luke, so she is the head of the household. She was the influential woman in her community and her state in life. After listening to Paul and being baptized, Lydia invited Paul and his missionary group to stay at her home. That’s it, that’s all we know. I can’t recall if the story first touched me, in a new way, when I was in the Lay Ministry Program in our Diocese, or later serving on a Bishop’s Commission for Women, But as a single woman, an Oblate and at the time, a well-paid professional I looked to Lydia as a exemplar of my role in the church, to be bold in my faith and to use my means to support the work of the Church. I also try to be a helpful and encouraging voice to the priests that I have become friends with. They have a daunting task, as do all who are serving the Church as religious. I have shared Lydia’s story with others since she became one of my patron Saints and they have acknowledged that those four verses have not stood out to them as they have heard Acts proclaimed over the years.

My other scripture example is regarding Saint Matthias, whose Feast Day is today, but since it is a Sunday, isn’t acknowledged in Mass prayer. St. Matthias is, like Lydia, only mentioned in a few brief lines in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:15-26). St. Matthias was the choice of the apostles to replace Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. He is actually only mentioned in verses 23 and 26, the rest of the scripture is about the process and the prayer of the apostles as they choose a replacement. Matthias became one of the Twelve, one of the early bishops of a fledgling Church – two verses and is not mentioned again.

The influence of another on our lives can be long-lasting, regardless of the length of time they are present in our life, in person, story or example. Some of us have our mothers for a shorter amount of time than we would prefer, others are graced with the gift of many years. Either way to the outside world it may just seem like a few short lines in the large book of our life, but to us, the impact is immeasurable. Let us spend a few minutes today being thankful for the gift of our mother, grandmother, or women who acted like a mother to us. I will remember several in prayer today. If you are lucky enough to be able to be with them in person, then enjoy every moment of it!

Peace, Deena

The image for today is a picture of a statue of St. Luke that I have in my garden, along with a rogue Columbine flower that ventured away from the main plant. Besides being one of the synoptic Gospel writers, it is believed that St. Luke wrote Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke also tells more stories about women than the other Gospel writers and depicts women as women of faith, women who have been healed and forgiven, and women who are part of the community of faith, the new Church.

To learn a bit more about St. Lydia, click here.


For our searching hearts

Yesterday I posted an image on Facebook that said “Do You”. We are all special, each with our own unique gifts and talents. It’s easy to forget in this world of constant social media updates. Of course it is wonderful to see something you want and seek to strive for it! I set new goals all the time as a result of a trait or accomplishment I see in others. But it’s important to remember who we are, as we are. My house might not look like the home of someone I admire, but it’s comfortable for me. My gardens aren’t huge, or even as big as I want them, but every minute of the past two days that I spent cleaning up the flower beds and planting new flowers in pots filled my soul.

I can’t sing, but I love poetry and scripture and perhaps find solace where others do not. I will stop crafting because I see the mixed media art or cards of someone else and compare my art to theirs. But I smile when I think of the words of a crafter I follow, Tim Holtz, when people ask him questions about the way he did something – “You do you!” We all have our unique way of seeing and creating with the craft we enjoy.

But there is one way to which we can all look and find meaning and direction.

Last night we had a visiting priest for Vigil Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Fr. Do, a retired priest from neighboring LaSalle parishes, said something that kept repeating in my head all evening and this morning. “Without the Way there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing.” I shared it with my nephew as one of those phrases or insights that we can carry with us as a guiding light. But before writing about it, I thought, I am certain that Fr. Do added his own insight and perspective to his homily but was the quote originally stated by someone else? What a gift Google can be (ok, maybe I am a bit freaked about all the AI discussions but still I use it almost daily!). I searched the phrase and found that it is a 1960’s song by Reba Rambo, from an album The Folk Side of the Gospel. No wonder it resonated so strongly with me!

Reba’s verses of the song: “Men are seeking for answers, to life’s questions that never cease. In their lives there is something missing. They are looking for release And the way to peace. He is the way, without him there is no going. He is the truth, without him there is no knowing. He is life now and eternally. He satisfied the searching heart.”

Fr Do said: “From life experience we know, without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living. Following Jesus, the Way, we can be sure we are on the right way, on the path leading us to true happiness. With Jesus, the Truth, we have the correct understanding of human existence and our own destiny.”

What a beautiful example of being inspired by words of Truth and then finding our own way to express it. Be inspired to share the words of Truth and Life with those around you. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” As we focus on our lives with God, we can stay clear of the confusion of comparing ourselves to others and it will help us to focus on the things that truly matter.

Peace, Deena

Image from a virtual Camino to Santiago de Compostela


Grateful Praise

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, Praise and exalt Him above all forever. (Daniel 3:57)

The day began with sun shining and birds chirping. It is truly a day to give praise for the beauty of Spring. Even though the clouds are moving in, we need the rain, so we can give praise for that as well. The image I selected for today was taken yesterday during a visit to Hornabaker Gardens, for the New Plant Workshop, with my dear friend, Kathy. The morning started with rain but as the workshop went on, I saw the sun shining and the clouds departing behind Dave and Molly as they spoke to us in the hoop building we were in. It was a lovely morning; new plants, the beautiful gardens and a kindred spirit filled my soul with such joy!

Once I began to pray and become more familiar with the Psalms I pondered writing a book comprised of prayers and psalms of daily praise and thanksgiving. I tend to gravitate to Psalms of praise so I think it would be great to have them consolidated, along with other prayers from great spiritual teachers, in one place. My cousin is working on final edits of her first book in her nineties, so maybe there is still hope for my book.

I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the 1990’s as a result of the encouragement of our parish priest at the time. It took me awhile to figure out and get in a rhythm of moving the ribbons, using the weekly and daily prayers, while moving around the book (I use the Shorter Christian Prayer version rather than the full set of books with complete Office of Readings, etc). Once the lightbulb went on it, using the Liturgy of the Hours has been a blessing to me. I wish I was more consistent, I waver at times and often use condensed versions in prayer books like Give Us This Day, which I have previously mentioned in this blog. The Liturgy of the Hours is also called the Breviary, or the Divine Office, and is prayed by religious and monastics in the Catholic Church daily. It was one of the things that drew me to Benedictine spirituality and monastic life, to realize that someone, somewhere in the world, at this moment is praying for all of us and the Church. I wanted to do that same thing for others.

Quickly Sunday Morning Prayer, especially the Canticle of Daniel, became the favorite part of my prayer time using the Liturgy of the Hours. Various parts of the Canticle are used on each of the 4 Sundays of the Psalter but verses 57-88, used on Week 1 and III, are verses I return to many times, often on days other than Sunday morning. There are probably only a handful of items I would want as part of my funeral liturgy and this Canticle is one of them! Like Canticle of the Sun attributed to St. Francis, these Canticles perfectly praise all aspects of creation and the Creator. They fill me with such joy and thanksgiving.

This week I discovered a new prayer method of thanksgiving, the Rosary of Gratitude. I have used a gratitude journal many times in my life, listing 5-10 things each day for which I am grateful. But I have a few other ways of journaling at the moment, so one more journal to write in wasn’t feeling like a way to be grateful! Our prayer group has selected a new book and study program by Ascension Press for our reading and reflection. There is a video as part of each section of the book. In the video, Fr. Josh Johnson encouraged praying the Rosary of Gratitude. I googled it to learn more about the format and realized it was something I had done before but didn’t realize it was a “real” prayer method. I have prayed the Rosary, the Franciscan Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy but when I used the beads for things I was grateful for I thought I was not honoring the true intent of the Rosary. What a delight to learn that there are ways to use my beads for gratitude.

I fell in love with it as I prayed. I soon realized that as I entered deeper in prayer there weren’t enough beads to cover all the things I was grateful for. I started with more broad items like being grateful for my family, for my friends, for my home, our parish and our area priests. Within a decade or two very specific things came to mind; Jeff’s successful surgery, Becky’s test results, the assistance I received on a work project, dinner with friends, and as I prayed it this a.m., after reading Judith’s blog about her airport experience, for the goodwill of people that help and that she obtained her phone before boarding her flight to Italy. It’s only been a week but I hope to incorporate this as part of daily prayer and can only imagine the blessings that will come from reflecting on the good things that I experience each day, things that I am grateful for instead of the things that aren’t going as well as I hoped.

This week consider ways you might spend a few moments each day in gratitude for the blessings in your life. Whether it is formal prayer, a gratitude journal, or a few moments basking in sunshine and saying “Thank you”, let’s watch and see what a difference it might make.

Peace, Deena


Hold on to hope

Easter is our season of hope. But it is easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by all the news. I know better than to think that if I just ignore the news, stay away from things that are negative or that bring me down, that I will be better off. We cannot allow ourselves to get to the point that we are numb to the news or ignore it. But what is the answer? I thought I have to focus on hope, the answer lies in the hope that things can change.

I contemplated all the news that crossed my path this week. I watched news reports of young individuals getting shot going to the wrong house or trying to get in the wrong car in a parking lot. I watched David Muir’s daily segments this week on ABC Evening News about the issues with climate change and the resulting rains and historic flooding in South Sudan. It has caused a food shortage for the Sudanese, fields and huts are covered and mothers were neck deep in water picking lily leaves for food. That was before the political unrest that broke out in Khartoum. I read the latest issue of National Geographic that the Florida panther, whose numbers were on the brink of extinction, is showing signs of coming back in Florida but there is still reason for concern. As an example, two young kittens were removed to safety when the mother was struck by a car and brought to a facility for healing. When the family was returned to the wild, in a Conservation Center, the kittens were both hit by cars and killed. Is there hope after reading all of that?

Yes, there is. People responded to David Muir’s segment and sent over $2 million dollars to support The World Food Programme. People around the country continue to stand up and demand more restrictions on gun purchases, especially to individuals with mental health or previous issues with the law. Many of us try to make better decisions regarding our carbon footprint and move away from being a throw-away society.

As I sat at my desk doing some banking paperwork, I glanced up and noticed the “little bag of hope” that my cousin gave me last week when we got together to catch up on life. It is a sweet little reminder to look for moments in every day that can lift and encourage. It has a star to wish upon, a candle to remind me that there is light to be found in every darkness, an angel to protect and guide, a flower to remind me of beautiful things in the world, a key to unlock my inner strength and a heart to remind me that I am always loved. It pretty much covers all the aspects of life that nurture and strength hope.

I thought about the visit to an area church on Friday evening to see the relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis and St. Manuel Gonzalez Garcia. I stood in line as people moved forward to venerate the relics and say their personal prayers for intercession, inviting God to help us grow in faith.

We pray because we have hope, hope for God’s hand to reach out and heal us of physical, emotional or spiritual ills. We listen to God’s word, as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus, the Gospel Reading for this Third Sunday of Easter, unaware that it was the Resurrected Jesus speaking to them and interpreting scripture to them. We listen to and reflect on God’s Word, open to receive the direction we seek, solutions to problems.

But still the issues are big, how do we suppose we can make a difference? Then I encountered the words of John O’Donohue, one of my favorite authors and poets, on his Facebook page which his family maintains. I was reminded, in the excerpt from his book, Eternal Echoes, that we can make a difference by staying true to who we are, what we believe in and the hope we hold in our hearts. If we can “find a creative harmony between your soul and your life, you will have found something infinitely precious.” John continues as he writes “You may not be able to do much about the great problems of the world or change the situation you are in, but if you can awaken the eternal beauty and light of your soul, you will bring light wherever you go.” That my friends, brings me great hope!

So let us look for the little signs every day, those God moments, that encourage us to keep believing in the good in the world. Even though the weather has not completely switched to Spring yet, my plants are resilient and keep growing. The geese show up by the water by my favorite grocery store every year and then soon the little goslings follow their parent geese back and forth across the street from their little home (wherever it is) to the water and back again. The City of Peru added a Geese Crossing sign as a warning to drivers to slow down and keep the family safe. A small light in the world. Together we can make the darkness a little less enveloping, we can bring some light, our light, to the places and people we encounter. Let’s keep that hope alive!

Peace, Deena

Photo: from my photo album, a “little bag of hope”


Peace be with you

Maybe my mood is a bit more somber today because of the rain and gloom compared to the radiant sunshine of the past three days. So, I reflect, Thank you, God, for Divine Mercy Sunday! I don’t know about you but I can be Thomas on many days – I won’t believe unless… I can fill in the blanks with a variety of concerns or issues and then the desired outcome. Even though I have seen countless appearances of God acting in my life and the lives of others, I easily forget and let “dark clouds creep in and cover up the sun” and get discouraged. “We wonder if the sun is still up there. And perhaps we begin to get discouraged as our faith and trust start to waver and change to doubt and distrust.”

This quote is from the book, 33 Days to Merciful Love, by Father Michael Gaitley. I have used this book three different times over the course of seven years and found myself picking it up last night after attending Vigil Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday. I prayed the Divine Mercy Novena this week, beginning on Good Friday, and hope to attend a Divine Mercy Sunday celebration this afternoon in LaSalle at St. Hyacinth’s Church. I have had a few challenges over the past couple of weeks, so I found myself opening to the section, Week Four, Into the Darkness.

The book is a 33-day personal retreat (but often studied together in groups, as I did the first time) in preparation to consecrate our lives to Merciful Love. Through our prayer, study and offering we offer ourselves to Jesus and let his consoling love transform us into saints. The book is focused on the life and spiritual teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux and incorporates some of the teachings of St. Maria Faustina Kowlaska, best known for her writing on Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy image. I have never been the biggest fan of St. Therese and her “little way”, but somehow her teachings shows up when I need them. My mother had a great devotion to her, so I wonder if Mom is tugging her sleeve at those times that I need a reminder of St. Therese’ trust even in dark and difficult times. Early on in the study we consider that sin (I replace with doubt and lack of trust) comes from a lack of faith in God, God’s Word in scripture and God’s goodness. Fr. Gaitley offers the premise that this is the deep root of the darkness in the world, people act as if God does not exist.

Yesterday, in my monthly Benedictine lay Oblate gathering, we studied Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical Letter Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. A few lines have been on my mind since re-reading the assigned sections for our discussion. In #92, Pope Francis says “We have only one heart…” and any act that would mistreat an animal or another creature, creation in general, is “contrary to human dignity.” The darkness in the world feels that we do not live with that one heart of love and compassion for all we have in this world and for each other. So we offer our plea for mercy as we pray and repeat, in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, “have mercy on us and on the whole world”.

Perhaps we need to embrace those days that we are more like Thomas and ask for a sign of God’s presence but then wait in hopeful anticipation for consolation versus living in doubt. We pray and place ourselves in the presence of the fountain of Mercy, over and over again, clinging to the love Jesus offers us, as St. Therese did. As Fr. Gaitley points out in a summary section, it isn’t about getting rid of the difficult and dry times in our faith lives, it’s about finding peace, joy and happiness in the midst of all the challenges and gifts of each and every day.

This Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, is such an important reminder for us to reach out to the extended hand of our Lord as he says to us, “Peace be with you.”

Peace, Deena

Image: Resurrected Jesus, Side Altar Holy Family Church

My Photo Album


To Live in Love and with Love

Happy Easter! I pray that you are blessed on this day with the joy of knowing our Risen Lord!

I am not sure why but it felt like Lent flew by this year. I certainly made attempts to sacrifice, pray more and change during the penitential season of Lent, so it wasn’t that it was easier than other years. Last week, on Holy Thursday evening, as I visited Altars of Repose at Illinois Valley Catholic Churches, I wondered now what? Will the changes I made be long lasting? Will life, me and my life, return to the way it was before Lent? I know the answer now as a result of two things that greatly impacted me during the holy days of Triduum.

First, on Holy Thursday evening, I brought along my Give Us This Day daily prayer book to use during my quiet prayer time as I visited each church. I opened to the reflection, “Love Like This”, for Holy Thursday by Debie Thomas, an Episcopal Minister. Ms. Thomas shares her thoughts on Jesus’ last acts before his arrest, trial and death. She reflects on Jesus washing the feet of the apostles and that he models to “Love one another like this. Hands-on and no-holds-barred. Love until you surprise people. Love until the powerful of this world feel the threat of your love. Love until the broken of the world are healed, and the starving of the world are fed. Love until love becomes your signature, your trademark, your calling card, your identity. Love until you understand what I have done to you. Love until the world understands who I am.” I re-read that quote at every stop as I contemplated the immensity of God’s love, a love I will never be able to fully comprehend. Reading that, how could I ever end Lent with the thought of letting go of the changes I attempted to make and return to the person I was before beginning my Lenten journey?

Last night I attended Easter Vigil at my parish, Holy Family Church. Twenty years or so ago, Easter Vigil has become my favorite liturgy of the year. I love all the ritual and symbolism, moving from the darkness into the light by lighting the Easter Candle and all of our small candles from the one light, the Light of Christ. The many readings remind us of our faith journey leading to Jesus and salvation. I rejoice with Mary Magdalene and the apostles, as their grief and pain turns to wonder and immense joy in the Risen Lord.

Fr. Paul Carlson shared deeply insightful reflections, as he always does, but the first of his points accentuated the reflection on love that I have been holding since Thursday evening. He said “Our Easter hope and our Easter faith rests on the mystery of love… If we want to see what is true and real, the heart and the mind must be aligned in love. If we notice that at times our faith is weak, we will so often notice that our love is weak.” Fr. Carlson went on to reflect on why it might be that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were given the first privilege of seeing the empty tomb and the Risen Lord. He pondered that perhaps they were given this honor, among all the others that followed Jesus, including his apostles, because of their great love, they loved the most and the most simply. “Our faith rests first upon love.” “We need to love and we need to remain in his presence.” We can’t say that we love God, our Beloved, and then not spend time with him in prayer.

So today, on this beautiful Easter Sunday, I wish you joy and the love that we find in knowing Jesus as our friend, our teacher but most importantly, as Lord of our lives. May we grow deeper in the love that comes from growing closer to him, each and every day of these 40 days of Easter and beyond.

Peace, Deena

Photo – the gift of love, as Easter lily from my brother and sister-in-law, Gene and Stacie.


Making the space

Some of my favorite pages on Facebook are ones that remind me to keep it simple and focus on what’s important. Pages like Simplify Days, Imperfectly Simple or Simplicity Habit remind me that I don’t need to buy the things I used to years ago for the house or to decorate. First of all, I would like to get rid of things before I buy more and if I store the items downstairs, it’s a bigger project to bring them up and down. I seem to have less energy for the decorating changes that I used to do. Lately, it takes me longer to decorate for each new season and I am happier leaving items up all year instead of swapping them for a seasonal adornment.

Saturday morning I read another beautiful reflection from Franciscan Media’s Pause and Pray, the prayer email and blog I mentioned last week, reminding us to not be “possessed by our possessions” and to take things off our calendars so we have more time for rest, prayer and reflection. As we declutter things, from our calendar and our life, we make room for what’s important. It was a lovely consideration, and prayer, regarding many of the things I have talked about in this blog. But still, it was a welcome reminder for me this weekend, after a very busy week, and an inappropriate level of worry because the Easter bunnies haven’t made their way up the stairs yet and a multitude of other projects on my to do list.

So here we are on the threshold of Holy Week, today celebrating Palm Sunday and about to enter the holiest of weeks in the liturgical year, as we look ahead to the Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter. I am amazed at how quickly we journeyed through Lent this year!

During Lent we reflected on making space for prayer, or to rest, and to simply be with ourselves and our thoughts. Perhaps you, like me, selected things to “give up” this Lent. Maybe you chose to add things that you desired to make time for, like a special retreat, volunteer work or devoting more time in prayer. Whichever way you opted to observe Lent the point of our choice is sacrifice, yes, but also to focus our attention on God instead of the desires that consume us. When we want to reach for a favorite treat or indulgence, but choose not to as our Lenten observance of fasting, we turn our attention to those who have less than we have, or to God, with a request to fill that space with something more meaningful.

As I reflect back on the past week I consider the number of times I let personal or national news impact my sense of well-being and focus. I can be easily derailed by a comment someone makes or the events in a given moment. My Lenten Rice Bowl is filled with dollar bills as a result of giving in to frustration and using language I prefer to eliminate. However, I am finding that, as a result of my attention to prayer and spiritual study, those moments are more short-lived than they used to be. I can get back on track quicker than I have in the past.

If you started Lent with an intention and gave up mid-stream as a result of a momentary lapse, or perhaps never really started a Lenten practice, there is still time to enter into this grace-filled season of the year with a renewed attention on what is important. Our new practices don’t have to be limited to the 40 days of Lent, Easter is a time of renewal and resurrection! We can choose activities and attitudes that bring us more joy.

I loved a statement made by Abbot John Klassen, St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, as part of his reflection in Give Us This Day for Saturday, April 1, “On the Cusp of Holy Week”. Abbot Klassen said “The profound events of this holy time give us space to reflect on where we are spiritually and emotionally – to reflect on how we might open ourselves to the liberating, transformative message of the dying and rising of Jesus.”

Let us journey through this Holy Week, with prayerful attention, immersed in the solemn beauty and ritual of these holy days, with eyes on Easter and the life, with God, we are meant to live.

Peace, may you experience many graces this Holy Week! Deena

p.s. If you desire to enter more deeply into a contemplative prayer practice but are searching for new ideas or methods, you may want to consider a new course that is being offered by Ignatian Ministries and our founder, Becky Eldredge. If you are not familiar with Ignatian spirituality and prayer methods I believe you will find it an interesting and refreshing addition to your prayer practice. It is called Going Past the Shallows and begins this Weds, April 5, meeting once a month for 6 months. There is more information on the link. If you have questions, just let me know.

Photo from my photo library – Holy Family Church, Oglesby IL


A Golden Ribbon of Compassion

I had planned to write about grief, faith and the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the death of Lazarus and Jesus weeping for his friends. We have been looking at grief and letting go of strength, instead replacing holding on with tenderness and vulnerability in my Lenten Retreat – A Different Kind of Fast. It’s been a hard week for that study so I had been contemplating what to write about. But compassion took hold of me in a different way this weekend. I receive a daily email from Franciscan Media called Pause and Pray. Saturday’s prayer inspired me to take a different direction for this weekend. I will share the prayer at the end of this blog post.

It seems like it has been at least a few years that we have heard of an increasing number of natural disasters and changes in our weather. This week we have continued to see California bombarded with snow, rain, flooding and then a tornado! Just this weekend there were devastating, and fatal, storms in Texas and Mississippi. We can disagree what we call it or the reasons for it, but our weather is changing.

I attended a celebration of life the summer after my cousin died in 2019, and spoke with her husband, a retired geologist, and asked him what he thought of the changes we were all experiencing and if we had time to turn “it” around. He advised that climate change was real, talked about ways he experienced it in his studies and that while there was time, it was more urgent than people supposed. I was already a student of Laudato Si’, the first papal encyclical, written by Pope Francis, to focus on care for creation as a moral obligation. So that conversation renewed my personal passion to stay informed and attempt to make a difference.

This week, on March 22, we celebrated World Water Day to promote awareness about the water crisis in the world. There are approximately 2 billion people (numbers vary by source) living on our planet without access to safe, clean drinking water. The concept of World Water Day was proposed in 1992 by the United Nations and in 1993, the first World Water Day was promoted. It may seem like this is only a problem that impacts countries like Africa or areas impacted by disasters like Turkey during the recent earthquakes, but recent issues with the Flint, Michigan municipal drinking water crisis have shown us that issues can occur even in the U.S. Eight years later they are still dealing with the situation! Eight years in the United States; how can we not have the expertise to resolve this, which occurred as a result of switching the water source from a Detroit source to the Flint River? Unconscionable! I switch out and provide clean drinking water to my cats more than people in this world are able to obtain clean water. Sometimes we have to put things in perspective of our use of the resource to realize how fragile it is.

I know it seems overwhelming. It’s hard to make changes when is easier to do one thing instead of another. Then to rationalize it, we pause and ask how a little change in our daily use of resources, like water, can make a difference. It does and it can!

The environment is a common good according to Pope Francis’ teaching. He says there is an interdependence in our relationships with God, our neighbor and our planet. We have a moral responsibility to have concern for our neighbor and the planet we are passing along to future generations. Picking up a six-pack ring (and cutting them open if we discard them) so that it doesn’t end up as a hazard to fish and seagulls in the ocean can make a difference. Every year countless wildlife die due to water pollution. Reducing single-use plastics and disposable products that will end up in landfills and water sources can make a difference. Reducing our water use at home can make a difference. I was astounded to read that an average shower uses 17 gallons of water and a single toilet flush uses 7 gallons. It’s staggering. Maybe we can’t change all the ways we use water each day but perhaps our awareness can prompt us to make small changes. I paused as I grabbed for a small water bottle at a recent meeting, chastising myself for not being better prepared and bringing water in one of my stainless water bottles. I could have passed from taking the bottle, replacing consumption with sacrifice, as Laudato Si’ calls us to do. Seriously, one little bottle Deena? Yes, one little bottle is one less being used. Lent is certainly a great time to ask ourselves to consider how we consume things.

I am going to challenge myself to be more aware, reignite my involvement in Care for Creation and remind us, occasionally, of our impact on the planet. There is a Lenten action calendar on the Laudato Si’ Lent website and there are great suggestions, and an abundance of information, on the World Water Day link, please check them out and consider how you might make small changes in the use of the resources of our common home.

The prayer from Franciscan Media’s Pause and Pray on March 25:

In meditation,
imagine our threatened,
blue-green planet and its people,
with their hungers, wars, joys.
Then see this globe wrapped 
in the gold of compassion,
brought by you and millions of others like you.
From horizon to horizon, it shimmers.
Humanity heals. 

Peace, Deena

Image from Resources for World Water Day 2023


All You Holy Men and Women

It’s a busy weekend and week for honoring the Saints. We all celebrated St. Patrick on Friday, his persistence in faith and bringing the Gospel message and Christianity to Ireland. Today we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day. The Solemnity in the Church is actually tomorrow due to March 19 2023 being the Fourth Sunday of Lent. As a member of Holy Family Church and an Italian, some of us are celebrating his feast day for two days. I look forward to a St. Joseph’s Table meal tonight at neighboring St. Joseph parish, part of the Peru Catholic Parishes. As part of my Lent Retreat, A Different Kind of Fast, we did a reflection of Joseph as sleeping Joseph in art. I posted that I found an increase in devotion to this representation of Joseph, sleeping and as the Dreamer, after Pope Francis shared in 2015, his devotion and a statue that he keeps to remind him that even while sleeping Joseph cares for the Church. As our commentator for that day’s reflection, Amanda Dillon, so wisely said, perhaps this art reflects “a call to put down our tools, rest, to allow God to hover over us and refresh us to new insights about out lives.” Profound!

Some saints, like St. Benedict, have two feast days, we celebrate his actual feast day on July 11 but on Tuesday, March 21, he, like St. Francis, also have a memorial day of their “transitus”, the day he entered Eternal Life. So it was appropriate this weekend to have our monthly Oblate gathering, as Oblates of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, as well as a study of St. Benedict as part of the The Mystical Heart Retreat Series with Abbey of the Arts.

Later this week, on Saturday, we celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord, the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary and her “yes”, or fiat, to be Christ-bearer to the world. We celebrate Mary under several titles throughout the year or in our prayer; Christ-Bearer, Mystical Rose, Greenest Branch, Untier of Knots, Star of the Sea, Mother of Sorrows, Mother of Good Counsel, Queen of Heaven, and of course the more popular, Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes and Guadalupe. There are so many titles for Mary that we can reflect upon to give us guidance in our lives.

I have an endless list of favorite saints, some for specific reasons like St. Nicholas, for charity and generosity, or St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, and I often turn to St. Anthony, patron of lost items, to help me find something I put in a safe place! St. Hildegard in all things; she is a paragon of all the virtues I treasure and admire, mystic, writer and teacher, artist, musician, herbalist, Benedictine Abbess, and so much more. My mother loved her patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, for her “little way” while I love the passion, depth of spirituality and desire for reform of St. Teresa of Avila. Both, along with St. Hildegard, were mystics and are female Doctors of the Church.

I have been turning to both St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena during Lent for assistance with my contemplation of the immense love and mercy of Jesus for us. I recalled during another Lent virtual retreat of the contemplation of Jesus’ love for us and desire for our love, as consolation to Jesus, as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reflected on a Lenten letter written by St. Pope John Paul II. She wrote, “the closer you come to Jesus, the better you will know His thirst…Whenever we come close to Him – we become partners of Our Lady, St John, Magdalen. Hear Him. Hear your own name.” (excerpt from 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley). The interesting thing is that reviewing that excerpt, and another book by Fr. Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, I was reminded of the role of Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that began for me in the 1990’s, and again with these books in 2016, and now that I am a part-time team member of Ignatian Ministries. St. Ignatius and others have guided my vocation through the years.

In today’s second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, reminds us that we now live in the light of Christ. He appeals to us “Live as children of light, now light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” One of my favorite tasks as administrator of the Facebook page for our parish is to share stories of saints on their feast days. We can learn so much from how they lived their lives. We can turn to them for their intercession and assistance in our own lives. We look to them as models and guides. They offer a treasury of examples of ways to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Spend some time reflecting on your own favorite saints and spend some time with their writings or prayers as part of your Lenten journey.

Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints. (final line of the Divine Praises)

All you Holy Men and Women, Saints of God, pray for us. (Included in The Litany of Saints)

Peace, Deena

Image: Two Saints by 20th century Russian artist, Mikhail Nesterov, on The Sacred Art Page on Facebook


Dealing with change

I suspect I am in the same boat as many of you this morning trying to adjust to our Spring Forward time change. The cats are confused, we are trying to figure out our routine this morning. Sometimes change is as mundane as moving the hands of a clock forward. Sometimes it is more monumental like loss and heartbreak.

This morning I got a text from a friend who is struggling with the realization that her sweet dog might be in her final days. I have suffered through that specific change three times in my life. It is so hard! My heart breaks for her today. I have another friend preparing to go out of state for a funeral for the death of her friend’s son, who died in an accident while out of country on a vacation. Two other friends face different struggles each day with their mothers in nursing homes. Another dealing with family addiction issues. Last night when I got home from a fun evening with friends I learned that the Chicago firefighter lost the last two children after his family was trapped in their home in a fire. While working, he arrived on the scene and had to try to resuscitate one of his own children. His entire family, wife and children, gone. All of those situations are tragic, how do we make sense of it? Can we make sense of it?

I just turned toward the window to contemplate the answer to that question – the snow is lightly falling again and a squirrel is happily bouncing around looking for things he buried, probably confiscated from my garden. A saying, part of a famous Zen koan, came to mind, “Chop wood, carry water”. We live life each and every day, the best we can, with as much love as we can give to each other. I can’t offer answers but I can and do offer my prayers.

I don’t mean that as a casual response of acceptance and resignation to the ups and downs of life. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and go on. I think we passionately embrace those moments of sorrow and grief, just as we do the wondrous occasions. As friends, we offer care and love to the other who is experiencing those tumultuous feelings. We understand that we will all go through those trying times and we must love the other as they travel through theirs. This week I read a blog post by Diane Butler Bass, an author and speaker, sharing the Lenten joy of her new puppy and a link to the blog post during the final Advent days of her previous beloved dog. I am sure at the writing of her Advent post she could not imagine the joy that her new puppy would bring. We can’t see it in the moment, we can only experience where we are.

I would recommend listening to Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for the Third Sunday of Lent this week. As Bishop Barron reflects on the Exodus scripture of the Israelites grumbling at Moses on their journey through the desert and the poetic gospel of John recounting the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well, he reminds us that a central paradox of the spiritual life is that grace is a gift, we can’t grasp at it. He summarizes that we grasp at so many things in life to try to be happy and satisfy our longings. A true way to find happiness is to share the graces we have received with one another.

As I again, try to contemplate meaning to each of those situations I shared at the start, I conclude that we can’t grasp at freedom from the difficult moments. Well, we can but it will be futile. They will be part of each of our journeys through life. But, just like our Lenten journey, aware that even the desert blooms in bright flowers after the rain, we look forward to Easter joy.

Peace, Deena

Image by Zack Dowdy on Unsplash


Embracing the Unexpected

On Friday my brother texted to see if I would be free on Saturday night for a visit. He and my sister-in-law would drive from the Quad Cities (4 cities that border the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa) for Mass and dinner. It was a lovely and unexpected surprise.

We had a delightful conversation with our parish priest after Mass. Then my other brother joined us and we celebrated family time together with bottles of wine at a local winery tasting room and then dinner. By the time we got home I reminded myself that I usually write this blog on Saturday evenings. Instead of shifting gears and putting pressure on myself to sit down and write, I embraced the theme of my Abbey of the Arts retreat, A Different Kind of Fasting. Our theme was fasting from multi-tasking and in-attention and embracing full presence to the moment. I opted to write this in the morning, this Sunday morning. When you are used to making sure every deadline and commitment is met, that no one is disappointed, or that I don’t disappoint myself by not following through on a plan, that my friends, was a big step for me!

In another mini-retreat I participated in this week, 5 days of reflection on Life as a Sacred Pilgrimage with Grateful Living, we were introduced to a poem by Maya Stein “in praise of I don’t know“. All week this verse has danced and repeated in my mind and soul “What if we could let ourselves rest for a little while in this halo of I don’t know, feel its soft touch against our urgent skin.” Perhaps that was the invitation I needed to allow change and flexibility in my routine. To be present to the unexpected adventure in my journey through the weekend. We begin journeys with a map but the memorable ones are those when we veer from the path to explore something new.

I woke up early this a.m. to very heavy fog. Everything was still and quiet. I read a morning prayer from the book of Kings, where after walking forty days and forty nights, Elijah encounters God not in the strong wind, earthquake or fire but the “light silent sound”. I let gratefulness for my family, for a lovely evening, for my faith and our parish overflow into a blessing of the day. Then I thought about today’s Gospel reading of The Transfiguration. I am so much like Peter! Jesus, knowing what lies ahead and the despair the apostles are going to experience during his arrest, crucifixion and death, gives three of the apostles a glimpse of heaven and his Divine Presence. Peter immediately wants to organize and put up tents. God’s voice interrupts the planning and reminds them, be here right now, listen.

What would happen in our daily lives if we just paused and listened more? Maybe it’s a poem that you read or a foggy morning that provides some insight for a situation in your life or decision you have to make. Perhaps it will be an unexpected invitation to break from the endless list of “have to’s” and accept the proposition to embrace something more life-giving. It is in those moments that we have to opportunity to listen to Spirit, to embrace activities that will nourish and sustain us.

I think John O’Donohue’s “For The Traveler” conveys this perfectly:

When you travel,
A new silence 
Goes with you
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

Listen a bit more closely this week.

Peace, Deena

Image: A pillar on the Camino heading towards Santiago de Compostela.

I have had a longing to walk the Camino before and after my visit to Spain and seeing pilgrims end their journeys at the Cathedral. So, last year I walked a virtual Camino and this was one of the lovely images shared on the app as we walked towards Santiago de Compostela.


The slow drip of Lent

Here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. I hope it has been a fruitful time for you so far. Between all the Lenten studies, books, devotionals and the retreat I am taking, I have enough content to reflect on for the entire season, without reading anything new. I have been so inspired by all the things I have been reading and reflecting on. My hope is that my sharing my experience of some of them will be helpful to you as well.

This past week I saw a print by a favorite artist, Kreg Yingst (WorkingArts on Etsy) of Abba Poemen, 4th Century Desert Father. The desert fathers and mothers (Abbas and Ammas) were Christians who walked away from their lives in order to intentionally listen to the call of God in a more radical way. Many people went to the desert to seek out these wise teachers for guidance in their own spiritual lives. The print is based on a quote by Abba Poemen where he states that water is soft and stones are hard but allowing water to drip on a stone, slowly it will wear it away. So it is with the word on God on our hearts. Kreg Yingst’s print says “dripping water pierces rock, God’s repeated word penetrates the heart.” This is my theme for this week, perhaps all of Lent, to let the slow drip of my Lenten fasting and prayer practices to wear away the many layers of resistance and avoidance within.

On Wednesday one of the meditations, part of my Abbey of the Arts Retreat, A Different Type of Fast, was with Abba Arsenius, another of the Desert Fathers. We sat in a cave and called upon Abba Arsenius to share his wisdom with us for our Lenten journey. He told me to sit, don’t act (or reach) so quickly. Slowly the desire I am trying to fill will leave and peace will fill the space. As I sat with Abba Arsenius and the wisdom he shared with me an image quickly came to me. It was a boat with holes in the bottom and water rushing in the holes. I saw all the habits I seek to be free of this Lent as my frantic attempts to prevent the water from rushing in, to prevent the feelings from rushing in. Rather than filling the holes it occurred to me to create an open space, with no resistance, and see what happens.

Another source of inspiration for Lent has been Ignatian Solidarity Network’s daily reflection of the theme Finding God in the Chaos. On Ash Wednesday, Sr. Norma Pimentel asked us to reflect on how we might be more attentive to God’s presence in the chaos of our world. The series is focused on finding hope and God’s presence in the chaos of our global landscape. As we do we are challenged to find ways to be part of a solution. That can feel difficult most days, but can I resist the temptation to say that the problems in our world are too big and that I can’t even make a dent in solving the problems? It might be as simple as using fewer paper towels or disposable items in the kitchen or saving money that would be spent on a drive-through coffee and over the course of Lent save those dollars to make a donation to a favorite cause. I believe that as we find more internal peace, calm, compassion and understanding we are more capable of bringing those qualities into the world. That alone can make a huge difference in our families, our work environments and our communities.

During Lent the Hallow app is doing a study of the classic The Imitation of Christ, believed to be written by Thomas a Kempis. If any of the things you are reading or hearing from others feel overwhelming or too hard, I offer the words from The Imitation of Christ, “do not be deterred, nor quickly cast down when you hear about the way of the perfect. Rather be inspired to reach great heights or at least aspire to attain them.” All of our internal efforts will, like water dripping on a stone, result in greater charity and concern for others. We can be assured that there will be outward signs of our inward journey of renewal.

Peace, Deena

Photo from PicMonkey


Is 40 days long enough for change?

Friday morning I had to drag myself out of bed. It wasn’t one of those mornings that I was just tired and moving slow. It was a feeling of dread, sadness, and lack of purpose. I felt I had no reason to want to get up. Finally the persistence of the cats, who were perturbed that I wasn’t following my normal routine, roused me and forced me to move. I need to be honest and admit that I have been fighting this feeling for quite some time. Some days aren’t so bad and I blame it on the weather or nothing special on my schedule to look forward to. Other days I wonder if I should seek some assistance. I have reflected on a thousand reasons for the feeling. A description for the malaise that I find fitting is spiritual desolation.

Later in the morning I saw a post by a former colleague and friend who was recently remarried. She moved away from the Chicago suburbs to be close to family and after moving connected with a past love. She looked so beautiful and radiated such joy, I was thrilled for her! After that I returned to the task of looking for a daily post for Instagram. I found one that seemed to reflect what I felt seeing her joyful pictures and a message I needed for myself – “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” The quote is by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist.

If I am honest about my life, it has been one of constant and endless searching. At one point, many years ago, a spiritual director told me that I might just be someone who will always be restless, searching for more, and trying to find meaning. He suggested I might just have to face the discontent and embrace it. As you can imagine, that didn’t feel very hopeful. So I continued searching in spiritual books and poetry, retreats, and study programs to either provide an answer or new insight regarding my purpose in doing God’s will in my life.

I don’t know if it was the pictures or the quote, but suddenly I decided I wanted to cease the search to find an answer. I just wanted “to be” as I heard Brother Paul Quenon of Gethsemani Abbey comment in a short PBS documentary and interview conducted by my friend, author, Judith Valente (link below). Brother Paul said that we don’t need a purpose, that the “purpose of life is life”, “you are to be, just to be.”

I decided I wanted to live more fully in the present moment – to plan for things like my trip to Italy in October versus worrying about my purpose in life. I want to clean and organize the garage this Spring and Summer (along with countless other places in the house) versus organizing an endless list of things to do that will help me feel like I am accomplishing something meaningful. Just being should hold enough meaning. I want to get my hands in the dirt and work with my plants in the garden and then appreciate the slow growth and unfolding.

Lent starts this week. I savor the deep reflection and extra times of prayer during this liturgical season in the Church. I don’t look forward to but choose a food fast of some sort. It is a practice each year that helps me explore and conquer some of the lack of self discipline I feel in my life. It’s a time to turn away from the instant gratification of some desired item and clear a space to look within.

So on Friday I also signed up for a retreat with one of my favorite teachers and her team, Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts. The theme of the retreat is to explore a different type of Lenten fast. Fasts in the way we think and approach life. For me, the thing I desire to fast from is that constant search I mentioned, from needing and wanting more in an attempt to satisfy the need to fill the empty space of who I am and what I have. I want to fast from activities that don’t serve me and fill up my schedule, and attention, and instead embrace more pausing and resting, as I have talked about the past couple of weeks. I want to fast from acting like I have it all figured out. I want to fast from knowing and certainty and embrace “mystery and waiting”.

As I think about Lent, I ask myself if 40 days is enough time for me to let go of the burdens I have placed on myself and have been carrying. As Vinita Hampton Wright says in the video that I have pasted below (and played with rearranging some of her words for my blog post title), yes, 40 days is enough. I hope, and believe, that it is enough time to begin and then continue each day afterwards, so that after Lent there will be a renewal of hope and joy, a resurrection within me.

As you read this, does anything stir within? What would you like to fast from this Lent? Some of you said that the posts on pausing resonated with you. If so, where can you add more moments of pause during these next 40 days, to choose to fast from unnecessary activity to stay busy? What thoughts and activities can you take a conscious fast from? I would love to hear from you, either by commenting or sending me a message.

Let’s take this journey together.

Peace, Deena

More Resources:

Vinita Hampton Wright’s YouTube Video, Lent is the Season for Truth-Telling. This was one of, if not the first video I listened to Vinita. It’s a favorite!

Judith Valente’s PBS interview with Brother Paul in 2011: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2011/05/06/may-6-2011-brother-paul/8764/ The interview and the correspondence that followed led to a deep friendship and also a partnership on a book released in 2021, How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship.

Abbey of the Arts is a virtual monastery and global community that offers programs and resources that nourish the contemplative practice and creative expression. I discovered Abbey of the Arts at the beginning of the pandemic, taking many of the online retreats and programs offered in the course of the 2 years and have continued since. These programs and the virtual community nourished my spirit and filled my heart and mind during the desert time of being at home. Christine became an Amma, or desert mother, who helped me transform the seclusion of being at home into a time of growing awareness of the cave of the heart. It’s time to return there.

Image is a paper craft design I created.


When a message is repeated – listen

When a message is repeated over and over – listen! What do I mean by a message? You read about a topic, it comes up in conversations, you see a social media post that resonates with how you are feeling, etc. I am sure this has happened to each of you and you know what I mean.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about rest, taking time when prompted, to listen to the voice within that begs us to just sit down a minute and be still. I started writing about the topic again last week, but then the blog went another direction because of the amazing sunset I saw and the desire to reflect on the sacredness of threshold places, in which we might experience a different level of awareness and closeness to God. To experience those moments, you have to slow down and pause.

Last Saturday’s daily gospel was the scripture from Mark 6:30-34 that I quoted in my initial blog regarding rest. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” The Twelve had been watching and learning from Jesus as he cast out demons, healed and restored life. He sent them out with a similar message to teach and heal. As they returned, they were probably excited, overwhelmed, tired, surprised and anxious to share with Jesus what they had accomplished in his name. Jesus acknowledged what they had done and then encouraged them to rest.

This week the daily gospel readings in Mark continued with Jesus performing miracle after miracle. The crowds grew and people continued to seek Jesus, to learn from him and to bring people to him for healing. Saturday’s gospel, this weekend, was one of the gospel accounts of Jesus feeding thousands by the multiplication of fish and loaves. His heart was “moved with pity” for them. He fed them and then sent them home. Jesus then, along with the apostles got in a boat and left.

This year our Oblate group is studying the Benedictine virtue of hospitality. St. Benedict clearly directs us in The Rule that all should be welcomed as Christ (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53). This month’s study surprised (and delighted) me, we looked at Hospitality to Self. We studied the chapters of The Rule, and commentaries, on The Reception of Guests (chapter 53), The Reception of Visiting Monastics (chapter 61) and The Porter of the Monastery (chapter 66. Yes, St. Benedict even provided guidelines for the type of person who should answer the door and how it should be answered.) We also read from chapter or “Week 2 – Welcoming Ourselves” from Boundless Compassion by Joyce Rupp and “The Humility of Self-Compassion”, an article by oblate Becky Van Ness published in Oblate News, Saint Benedict’s Monastery (Fall 2015).

Joyce Rupp points out that there are numerous accounts in the Gospels that show that Jesus took time to step away from his teaching and healing to pray or rest. He also leaves places that reject him or seek to harm him. By his example we learn that self compassion is not self absorption, and focus on the self, despite the needs of others. Jesus attended to their needs. But, he also knew when it was time to step back. It requires, Joyce suggests, more than just stopping the inner critical voices that keep telling us we need to give more, be more, care more. We “ask for the grace to change our relationship with that inner critic” states Becky Van Ness. Both authors offer for our consideration, each in their own way, that as we take time to love and care for ourselves, we will have more love to offer out to the world.

This week let’s take a look at moments that we might benefit from a bit of self compassion. Instead of blaming ourselves for the hundreds of times we don’t get it right (according to our inner critic), can we pause a moment, as we might with a friend, to offer a word of encouragement? Perhaps we can greet ourselves as needed during the day, borrowing from The Rule and the guidelines for the porter of the monastery, and offer a warm and welcoming verbal embrace saying “Thanks be to God” or “your blessing please”.

Wishing you peace this week, Deena

Resource Info:

What is a Benedictine Oblate? I’ve attached a link to the Sisters of St. Benedict, St. Mary Monastery, in Rock Island, IL. This is the monastery that I am an Oblate of. You can visit most Benedictine monastery websites and learn about their Oblate affiliate programs.

Oblates of St. Benedict Monastery, St. Joseph, Minnesota

You might be interested to learn that the multiplication of fish and loaves is found six times in the four synoptic gospels, that is, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is the only miracle that is consistently reported in all four of the gospels. Hospitality – Welcoming the Stranger by Catherine Upchurch


When we can’t see but we know.

I had something else started and almost complete for my blog post today but then I encountered the most incredible sunset Saturday evening. It was very similar to the sunset picture I added to this blog but I was driving so I didn’t stop to capture it and to be honest, I didn’t want to spoil the moment. I wanted to keep watching it glow and change in all the regal colors of pink, purple and blue. I felt immense gratitude for a beautiful day, warmer temps (after frigid cold on Friday), morning coffee with a friend and a lovely Saturday Vigil Mass.

As I drove I looked to the left where the evening before I saw 20 or so deer grazing in a field. They weren’t there, I wondered where they had ventured for their evening meal. I turned at an intersection on the edge of town to head toward my house and looked up at the sky to see the beginning of the almost full moon (full today on February 5) shrouded in secrecy due to the clouds.

All of these images reminded me of a drive home many years ago at a time that the corporation I worked for had an office building about 20 miles from my home. I would take a scenic route along the backwaters of the Illinois River, drive through what we, in the Illinois Valley area, affectionately call “The Curves” that wind through Starved Rock State Park and then along fields until I arrived home. Fall, Winter, and Spring, during dusk and night times, you have to be especially watchful for deer on the side of the road, hoping they won’t dart out in front of the car.

One very dark evening, with no moonlight, on my drive home I was being careful to watch each side of the road. I said to myself “just because you can’t see the deer, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, so be careful!” Instantly I pondered that as a reflection on God as well. There are moments that God feels right next to me, nudging and pointing the way, and other times that I have to stop and look hard, wondering where God might be. But my faith tells me, God is in fact there regardless of the circumstances of the moment.

This past week we celebrated the memorial of Irish Saint, St Brigid of Kildare. Her feast also marks the cross-quarter day of the Celtic celebration of Imbolc, which means in the belly of the Mother. It is the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox, a time when all within begins to rumble and stir to life. The Celts believe that these special days are threshold days or days when the veil between the sacred, spiritual world and the physical world is thinner and the spiritual realm more accessible. Like lighting a votive candle in a church, lighting a candle and placing a scarf out for St. Brigid to touch as she passes by, symbolize a belief in the great communion of saints standing by to intercede on our behalf. Most of us don’t see or hear them with actual vision or sound. But not seeing doesn’t diminish my belief in their heavenly aid.

Last year I purchased Braving the Thin Places by Julianne Stanz. It’s a fantastic book that presents numerous ideas for cultivating moments of grace with God by embracing Celtic Christian wisdom. In one of my favorite sections of the book, Julianne reminds us that silence can speak volumes. She writes that children are especially good at seeing beyond what is spoken given their growing vocabularies, being able to imagine and hold on to a sense of wonder, and to celebrate simple moments like walking barefoot in the grass or dirt.

I recall going to my father’s gravesite with my nephew just after his burial. The plot was still dirt covered. My nephew, six years old, stuck his finger deep down in the dirt and said he wanted to touch grandpa one more time. He believed it and in that moment, so did I. For that brief moment, we were in a threshold space, a thin space of touching the sacred world beyond the physical.

I hope this week brings you moments of sensing the sacred in daily moments, moments that you feel the presence of the Divine even when you can’t see it.

Peace, Deena

Resource Info:

Matthew Klein has a great drone video of “The Curves” on his Facebook page. Visit his website for more information about his photography and films, as well as links to his Facebook and Instagram pages.

Starved Rock State Park is a lovely park to visit if you are in the Illinois Valley area. For more info visit their website.


All our choices matter

This past week I listened to a seminar by Tony Robbins. Two steps of a 5-step plan for successful living that he outlined were to choose good role models, and create clear goals, for the type of life you want to live. He also said that proximity is power, the more you spend time with those people, the more likely you are to take on those characteristics and begin to live a similar life. We can’t always be in physical proximity with the people we want to learn from and emulate but there are certainly virtual ways to listen to or even study them. You’ve probably heard the saying that you become like the five people that you spend the most amount of your time with. I think it is true. So, we have to choose those five people carefully!

Saturday, January 28, was the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. One of the quotes attributed to St. Thomas is “the things that we love tell us what we are“. I invite us to take a moment this weekend and think about those things. To ask the question where we might be focusing our time and attention. Also, to consider who we are allowing to have such a dramatic impact on the outcome of our lives. I understand that we can’t eliminate some people from our life because of jobs or family situations. But we can control how we let those people impact us. We can also make sure that we are finding ways to be with the people that lift us up, to balance out the situations that we can’t walk away from. We have to live the right story. It can be painful to change our existing story if it isn’t creating the life we want. Here is the interesting part, we will hang on to that pain until we value something else more. Of course it is easier to stay the same, but is that the life we want?

The Gospel for this Fourth Week in Ordinary Time is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those mourning, and those who are persecuted, etc. What in this world makes me want those qualities over the opposite of each of those “blessings”? Nothing. That’s right, nothing in this world. It isn’t easy to choose these qualities over the ones that the world constantly presents to us as desirable. We each have to search our hearts to see if we make choices that will enhance the opportunity of eternal life over temporal satisfaction now.

In saying that, I don’t think that the choice means that we can’t or won’t enjoy the blessings of this life while we are living it, graces like joy, happiness, peace or security. It just means that we don’t cling to those things. We don’t seek them as an answer to the question of finding meaning in life. It means keeping a watch on the importance we attach to them.

Let’s circle back to role models and the 5 people we spend most of our time with. Perhaps the choice is to spend time with people that have a proper balance and attitude about the things that matter. We watch them, and we choose, to make choices that feed our mind, body and spirit over things that feel good for a moment. This week let’s take a loving and non-judgmental glance at the people and choices we spend our time with. Let’s reflect on them in light of St. Thomas Aquinas’ quote – the things we love tell us what we are.

Peace, Deena

Image by Chang Duong on Unsplash


Have you ever had a God moment?

Have you ever had a “God moment”? One of those moments that you felt that the Divine reached down and said “I just want you to know I see you, I hear you, I am with you?”

As part of a weekly prayer group, after attending a Light of the World Retreat (a kerygmatic parish renewal retreat), four friends and I have met each week for the past four years (it will be five this Lent!) to pray, study and grow together in our faith lives. We have followed the same format each week, which begins with a prayer of thanksgiving. We then share a “God moment”, move to our reading or study for the week and then conclude with prayers of petition. Some weeks the God moments are bigger and more obvious, other weeks it might be something less dramatic but that touched us in a personal way and reminded us of God’s presence in our lives. It is a gift to hear those moments in each other’s lives each week. It reminds us that God is with us, in big and small ways every day.

This week my God moments caught my attention immediately. They were reminders that I am not on this journey alone, trying to figure it out without some guidance and inspiration. I seem to forget that, a lot! I am grateful that God will use daily moments to remind me to take it easy, pause and ask when I need the help.

Monday, after talking about the value of Rest in my last blog, promising myself I would take time to be still and listen, I was frazzled again. I was worrying about something and was also not giving myself enough time to do what I wanted to get done in the house, get gas in the car and get to my cousin’s veterinary clinic for Butters check up (one of my two cats was recently diagnosed as diabetic and needs insulin twice a day). I got to the gas station and a new clerk was learning the cash register. She made an error which meant my purchase had to be cancelled and re-entered to correct it. I felt myself trying to be patient but looking at the clock I knew I had not given myself enough time. The two attendants had to call the manager for assistance, something wasn’t working right for them on the cancel process. The manager said she had to go outside and pump gas to fix it. Another delay. Finally, “come on guys” just blurted out of my mouth and I knew I failed the patience test. The issue was corrected, I got gas in the car, got on the highway and I called to indicate I would be late. Of course it was fine but I was upset with myself for not getting it all done perfectly and on time.

The appointment for Butters was fine and I had a delightful visit with my cousins. On the drive home I saw my phone light up. I glanced down thinking it was a response to a text I sent after the appointment and noticed it was the Hallow app playing.

I don’t usually play music in my car or listen to the radio. I did a couple of days prior, listening to classical music on the car radio to relax on a drive, but I did not have the Hallow app on. I also did not have the particular “course” that started playing on. I had been listening to Night Prayer at home the day before.

What lit up on my phone? This is the God moment – the phone started playing Stress Management by Reform Wellness, a short 8-session program on Hallow.

I laughed out loud, put it on the car audio to play and said “Thanks God, I appreciate it and am glad you have a sense of humor!” The recording was actually very good, just what I needed to hear. I plan to listen to it again, especially when I feel myself getting upset about something insignificant!

So was it a coincidence? Does God reach down and select the app to play on my phone? Seriously, I don’t know or care. What I do know is that in that moment I needed to take a deep breath, hand it over to God, and trust that everything is ok. In that moment, and through the stress management hints the program shared with me, I felt the Divine saying “relax, breathe, let me handle it”. That is a “God moment”.

On Tuesday I was checking Facebook after work and noticed a post by the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet.

The post was: “Come away by yourself and rest awhile…” Mark 6:31

I loved seeing this on Facebook that afternoon after sharing my blog post on Rest last weekend. It was an affirmation of what I wrote about and a reminder to listen myself. The Joliet Franciscan Sisters are a special community to me. My aunt was a Franciscan sister and my cousin who is still living in Joliet, founder of The Upper Room Crisis Line, has been a faithful member of the Congregation for 72+ years! It was another God moment; a reminder to rest, listen to my own wisdom, trust God a little bit more and through the post, was also a special family connection.

As you move through your week, look for those moments. When you look you will find them. Some days they are big blatant reminders, like lightening strikes, to pay attention and know that we are not alone in the world. Other days they are like a soft breeze, gentle whispers, as if to say “I just wanted to catch your attention”.

The Spirit is always with us, some days we are sleeping and miss it. Other days we are alert and notice. It certainly is more comforting and reassuring to be aware and feel Divine Presence throughout each day. Be on the lookout this week. I’d love to hear what you notice.

Peace, Deena

Photo posted on Joliet Franciscan Sisters Facebook page on January 14, 2023 (@ Sisters of St Francis)


When you are weary – rest

Saturday morning I attended a workshop by my friend and essential oil teacher/mentor, Kate Brown, and several of her colleagues from the aromatherapy school that she teaches for. It was a wonderful event, “Regroup – Reboot – Re-Emerge”, during which Kate and the other presenters shared techniques, and essential oils, for centering, grounding, setting intention, etc. But after it was over I realized I needed more one R – Rest!

I don’t mean sit with a book, the “chill and relax” sort of rest, or sit and mindlessly watch YouTube videos or scroll social media. I can decompress and relax by doing those things if I don’t want to focus on anything specific. I can unwind by looking out the window at the birds or going for a drive. I have apps and a variety of podcasts or programs to listen to that help clear a racing mind, especially if I am intensely focusing and giving energy to something I would prefer not to.

I tend to get involved in a lot of activities or sign up for programs and workshops so that I can learn more. I usually love all of that activity. But I realized I was just exhausted and overwhelmed by a multitude of daily events and responsibilities. I thought about watching my favorite YouTube artists and crafters or getting my daily “Catechism in a Year” video and notes with Fr Mike Schmitz done. But I knew that wasn’t the answer. It was Rest that I needed.

I laid down on the bed. Butters, my ginger cat, jumped up alongside me and we just rested. Not napped, just rested. It was the kind of rest that was like the Contemplatio step in prayer practice, Lectio Divina, the final phase of just resting in the presence of God.

After awhile I asked why I overextend? Why I don’t put more rest time in my day, or even my week? I am not sure who I was asking – myself, God? I don’t really think I needed an answer beyond knowing that I need to take more time to sit quietly, to listen and not talk, to just be.

In Sacred Scripture we hear that Jesus, when the apostles returned after being sent out on their own to teach and heal, told them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6: 30-32)

Why would I even assume that with a busy week of ministry work, parish involvement, caring for my pets, keeping up with friends and family, studying and learning more about my faith and other interests, that I wouldn’t need time to rest and listen for guidance? To pause on the doing of more activities and just rest in the presence of God.

Every night, as part of Night Prayer/Liturgy of the Hours, I recite (or listen to, if using an app) this verse:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

I think that prayer will have a different meaning for me each night from now on. Instead of just to rest in God’s peace while sleeping, I want more hours in each day where I feel I am just resting in the gentle embrace of God. I want to feel the peace of knowing if I stop talking and start listening during prayer, maybe a bit more of that peace will wash over each day.

If you feel busy all the time, or overwhelmed, I wish the same for you!

Peace, Deena


To learn more about Kate Brown, her essential oil programs and practice, visit Kate Brown Healing Essentials.

Catechism in a Year – study the Catechism of the Catholic Church with Fr Mike and Ascension Press on YouTube or download the study guide and read on your own. It’s still early in the year and the sections reviewed each day have been short, you could easily join in and catch up.

Image: My cat, Butters, resting in the sun earlier in the week. They are masters of rest.


An Epiphany – Thoughts for the new year

Today January 8 the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The traditional date in the Church is January 6, but like so many other Feast Days it has been moved to Sunday. It’s a beautiful text in scripture; the Magi or Wise Men, are called by King Herod to find the child that has been prophesied as a new king, a ruler of the nations. They follow a star, using their scientific knowledge to navigate their course to Jesus in Bethlehem. They bring the gifts of homage; gold, frankincense and myrrh.

We all know the story, the wise noble men, seeking someone wiser than themselves. We have heard various reflections on the meanings of the gifts they bring. We have been asked to consider the symbolism of offering our own gifts to God as we come to learn what they are and grow in our capacity and confidence to offer them in the world.

As I was thinking about what I might write for today’s blog, a multitude of things came to mind. I wondered about the trust that the wise men had to have, in themselves, to follow their knowledge and insights in seeking this unknown place and child king they were searching for. I wondered whether I would have turned around and headed back home when the star didn’t shine as bright or as clear, when the journey was difficult.

I also thought about each day we wake up and try to offer our best in the world. As I sat at my desk I glanced at a journal I didn’t mention last week. I frankly forgot about it when I was writing and sharing some of the journals I use or how I use them. It’s a 5 year Memory Book by Natural Life. Each day there is a space to jot down activities or thoughts for the day. Now that I have started my second year, it’s interesting to reflect on that date, in 2022, and what happened. The title, or thought, on the cover is “Each Day is a Gift”.

On Monday, I listened to a YouTube video by Monique Jacobs, a spiritual director/vlogger I subscribe to. In her video Monique talks about the value of an annual Examen, a practice of looking at our day, or year in Monique’s example, in review. Monique offers the idea of looking at each month of the past year, identifying a peek experience, and remembering myself in each of those experiences, what happened and how I responded. Then she asked that I look at myself as God sees me, to see myself with the loving gaze of God.

As I saw the title of my memory book and reflected on Monique’s video in light of the feast of Epiphany, I wondered, what it would be like if I looked at each day in this year of 2023 as a gift that I then turn and offer back to God?

There is a common prayer practice called the Morning Offering. It’s a prayer said at the beginning of each day in which I offer my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of the day to God. It’s a lovely prayer. I try to say it each day and have even tweaked it a bit to include prayers for peace between Ukraine and Russia, and to include the intentions of my family and friends. I also like to do an evening Examen, to look for the graces of the day and to be thankful. It’s also a chance to view the day for those moments of opportunity to improve and grow closer to God. But what would it feel like, at the end of each day, as I review or conduct an Examen of the day, to offer it back to God as a gift?

As I kneel before Jesus, as King and Lord of my life, I can’t imagine feeling content with the gifts I offer, with the tattered gifts of impatience, anger, self-centeredness or self-indulgence. I can’t imagine…unless I see the loving gaze of God looking upon me, as Monique suggested in her video. Nothing that I can do or present is worthy, when viewed in my eyes. But God’s gaze of unconditional love and compassion is different than my gaze.

All of these stories in scripture remain stories or narratives of a time 2000+ years ago, unless we hear them with the desire that God has for us to be in relationship. The Saints of the Church knew this, the desire to offer what they were to God was stronger than the urge to withdraw because their gifts felt inadequate. Catherine of Siena, 14th century Dominican mystic and woman Doctor of the Church, said in her Dialogue (60) “Love transforms one into what one loves.

May our prayer and desire each day, as we offer the gift of the day back to God, be that we are transformed by that gaze of Love.

Peace, Deena

Image from a visit to Our Lady of Angels Chapel


Planning a New Year – Happy 2023!

Let me begin today’s blog by wishing you a happy, healthy and inspired new year!

I have to admit I love New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I don’t go out and celebrate, and most years I rarely make it to the strike of midnight awake. The revelry of the neighborhood, and the return of the local cement mill whistle, usually wake me. I quickly and quietly greet in the new year. It is actually all the preparation, goal setting and planning, as well as the beginning of the fresh start in the new year, that are so exciting to me!

I am a self-professed planner addict. I have started planning in two and am waiting for 3 others to arrive. Each have their own purpose. The two I have started so far are for work. The ones I hoped would have arrived already are for journaling ideas and notes (separate than my daily journal books), planning goals, and tracking progress. I have also ordered a 2023 liturgical planner that I use for work planning and personal reflection on daily scripture. I’ll add some notes at the bottom of the blog in case you are interested in some that I use. They have varied over the years depending on the planning I am doing and things I hope to accomplish.

In all that planning, I don’t set New Year’s resolutions. That feels different to me – I will lose weight, I will walk every day, I will… I don’t set them because I would have to be honest and admit that I would be in the majority of the population that set the resolution and then forego it by the end of January, or mid February if I am lucky. If anything, I resolve to try to be more authentically myself and a live a life I can be pleased with when I reflect back at the end of the year. I like the process of setting intentions – things I want to be more aware of in life, or qualities to bring more of into my life like patience or gratitude, and to reflect on ways I can grow deeper in my faith life.

There is something about the writing of those intentions and reflections as the year progresses, jotting down new insights I have, or writing about a poem or a scripture reflection that moved me, that help me move through the year with more awareness regarding the intentions that I set at the beginning of a year.

Each year I read (it’s small and a quick read) Notes from a Friend by Anthony Robbins. I bought it when I had my business in 1996 and barely had the $7.95 for the book. (New cover and new price on Amazon.) The point is to be clear about what you want, see the details and write it down with no limits on possibility.

One of my favorite, more recent, rituals is to attend a retreat by my friend and author, Judith Valente, Writing the Prologue to Your New Year. This will be my third year. I was pleasantly surprised to open and read in 2022 what I wrote in 2021. Next Sunday I will open what I wrote in January 2022 when reflecting on the course that the year might take. Writing it and putting it away is a different than the Tony Robbins approach of reviewing it every day. Both clearly set the intention.

Some of my reflection for new year 2023 has been focused on the things that have become priorities, perhaps undesirable priorities, in my life. Early in Advent, his First Week of Advent YouTube homily, Bishop Robert Barron asked us to contemplate the mountains we worship, mountains such as status, money, acquisitions, etc. Things that have highest value in our lives, things we order our lives around and worship more than God. I have been chewing on it ever since I listened to it in early December and listen to it over and over. The other day I saw a Facebook post that really touched me, from Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, contemplating the presentation of infant Jesus in the temple to Simeon and his prayer of joy having seen the fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah. Fr Petsche asked us if we can name the person we long for on a daily basis. I wondered if in addition to who, I might add what do I long for each and every day?

As I contemplate the answers to those questions, and set a course for what I would like those to be in this new year 2023, I have to reflect honestly on what is most important to me, what is at the center of everything I do? I know what I would like the answer to be, but can I honestly report that most days I live it? Of course I have financial goals and personal growth goals. I want new furniture like the next person and I fretted day after day until I found the right car last month. It’s ok, and normal, to want all those things. But if I had an importance meter when making decisions or expending energy before making the decision, how important are they?

A favorite scripture passage is in this year’s Gospel for today, January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, found in the second chapter of Luke. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Reflecting on daily life, on the things that inspire or challenge us, is good for us. Things don’t always make sense in the moment but writing as we move through the year, reflecting on the things we want, then looking back on how life has unfolded can help us put things in perspective. It can help reveal God’s hand, and gentle nudges, in life.

One of the responsibilities that I have as part of my job with Ignatian Ministries is to post the weekly blog. As a result I have had the chance to read and begin contemplating the blog written by Vinita Hampton Wright. Our first series will be on the topic of Setting Up our Year in Christ. Vinita kicks us off remarkably! It’s actually because of Vinita and her posts for Loyola Press and the dotMagis blog on IgnatianSpirituality.com that I read and started following Becky Eldredge books and retreats, then ultimately starting working for Ignatian Ministries last year (but that’s a wonderful story for another day!). You won’t see Vinita’s post until Sunday night but it is worth checking out, it’s so good! Visit and bookmark Into The Deep on BeckyEldredge/Ignatian Ministries.

Another process for looking at the new year with eyes of faith that I would recommend is by the founder of our ministry and her husband, Becky and Chris. They have created a 4-week program, Living with Christ: An Ignatian Discernment Process for Intentional Living. For 20 years Becky and Chris have used this annual process in their lives and then in 2021 began offering it to others. They have been reviewing and working on the information and will offer four Zoom sessions on Thursdays, 12 – 1:30 CST, from January 26 – February 16.

Regardless of what your process is, short and quick or more complicated, spend a few minutes as we begin 2023 thinking about the qualities you would like to see more of in your life. Decide whether your faith life could use some sprucing up this year and what you would like to do about it. If you make resolutions and keep them, awesome and congratulations on beginning a new one. If not, what would you like to resolve to be more of this year, BE not DO. I’d love to hear from you and what that might be.

As we begin our journey through 2023 together, I wish you much happiness and joy!

Peace, Deena

Journal Suggestions:

Manifest Your Best Every Day by Kat Gottlieb

Monthly Planner by Cultivate What Matters. Not the Planner Sheets. I have used those in the past but didn’t really use them as designed)

Word and Worship Desk Calendar – Liturgical Planner by Paulist Press

Erin Condren Softbound Notebooks – favorites for journaling. I used the LifePlanner Collection for a few years but decided my other options work better for me. But they are pretty and well-designed.

My daily/weekly favorite format for work and appointments – the last couple of years has been Blue Sky

Image created in PicMonkey


Christmas 2022

On Christmas Eve we heard the Gospel of Luke in which Zechariah is able to speak again after proclaiming his son’s name as John. He recites a prayer, blessing God for sending the Messiah and states that his own son will be a prophet to the Most High. This prayer, the Benedictus, is recited daily in the Church as part of morning prayer. The verse at the end is my favorite and gives me hope every day.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1: 67-79

Christmas Day the dawn breaks upon us. The Light comes to us.

All of the Christmas Masses from Vigil on Christmas Eve, Christmas Mass During the Night, Mass at Dawn tell us the story of Jesus’ genealogy, his birth, the visiting shepherds, the angels singing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on earth on whom his favor rests” and then culminates with Mass During the Day with John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This gospel reminds us that those who came before testified to the Light, the true Light, which enlightens everyone, the Light that came into the world for us. To be with us, to show us the way.

This Light does shine for us. Perhaps some days we see it more clearly than others. But it can guide our life to be one of peace, an inner peace that helps us deal with the chaos in the world around us.

My hope and prayer for each of us on this Christmas Day is that the Light shines bright in our hearts and in our lives so that we can bring that peace and hope to those we encounter. May it shine bright not just on Christmas Day but each and every day until we become one with the Light.

I extend wishes for a happy and holy Christmas Day and Christmas Season.

Peace, Deena

Image from a Nativity Scene at my church, Holy Family Church in Oglesby, a few years ago.


Advent – December 18, 2022

The Fourth Week of Advent. Here we are. Typically I arrive at this point wishing I had taken more time to slow down, more time to pray or read spiritual writing, and taken more time to savor the coming of Christmas. I absolutely see missed opportunities in the past three weeks but this year feels a little different. My weekly prayer group, assisting on an Advent prayer guide at work and facilitating two Advent small groups has helped. Perhaps the more we immerse ourselves in something that we desire, the easier it is to attain the desired goal.

This weekend I was reminded of something that a parish priest, Fr. Tony, said to me when we were meeting to discuss my involvement in activities at the parish over 25 years ago. The priest assigned and then reassigned after one year, right before Fr. Tony, was the first one to reach out and ask me to get involved. He not only asked me to get involved, he gave me the task of writing a weekly prayer guide for Advent, with a prayer and reflection for each day. I had never written anything like that before! They turned out pretty good and I found the task of writing each week to be quite enjoyable. I wrote one for Lent as well. Then he was reassigned and Fr. Tony came to Holy Family. I shared some of my experiences of living in Michigan (parish life, women’s groups, studying at an ashram…), interests and ideas I had for Holy Family. He either thought I was from another planet but was desperate for the assistance or he saw potential. I chose to believe the latter.

The conversation I was reminded of this weekend was “I’m open to trying different things here at Holy Family…but before that I would like you to go to the deep, dark incense-filled corners of the church and experience the beauty of the rituals and traditions of the church.” That began a journey that has led me to a deepening of my faith life, an ever-growing appetite for learning about the Church and our spiritual mothers and fathers, and some of most amazing spiritual experiences. Not too long after that I considered religious life, but discerned I wasn’t cut out for community life. I compared and visited different communities to learn about their “associate” programs ultimately leading me to the Sisters of St. Benedict at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, IL (initially Nauvoo IL). After three years of formation and study, I became an Oblate. Again, the more we immerse ourselves in something, the more likely we will achieve the desired goal.

One of the rich traditions of the Church begins each year on the evening of December 17 with the recitation of the first of the O Antiphons, “Come O Wisdom”. The seven days of reciting the O Antiphons are absolutely my favorite week of Advent. Each of the seven antiphons (Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations and Emmanuel, God with us) have been sung (or recited) as part of evening prayer, with the Magnificat, since as early as the eighth century. The antiphons use images from the Bible that remind us of Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.

My mother was hospitalized in early December many years ago after a fall that required spinal surgery. I visited the large chapel at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria every evening to pray before leaving her and beginning the hour or so drive home. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, the hospital sisters, came to the chapel during Advent and prayed each evening. Seeing me there a few evenings, they invited me to pray with them. Hearing them sing the O Antiphons each night, the final week before Christmas, was a profound experience. I will treasure it and the time with the sisters forever.

I saw a delightful version of O Wisdom, shared by the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies on Facebook written by St. Hildegard. St Hildegard, a favorite saint, was a Benedictine Abbess in the twelfth century. She studied herbs and oils and wrote about medicine, composed chants and sacred music, created amazing art, wrote poetry and was a mystic. She wrote “O Wisdom…hip, hip, hooray! From earthen clay have all God’s splendid wonders sprung, that the new Sun might come forth, the new Light shine, the new Song sound in us!” (oi, oi! De limo Terre in Latin)

There is still a full fourth week of Advent available to us this year. Next year it will only be one day long. Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday of Advent but also Christmas Eve, so we will lose a week of Advent. Treasure the full week this year. And what an amazing week it is! We began on Saturday hearing the genealogy of Jesus, then for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect on Joseph’s dream and decision to trust the message and protect his little family. On Monday we listen to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Zechariah’s visit by Angel Gabriel and his disbelief when Gabriel tells him aging Elizabeth will bear a son, John. We hear the Annunciation and Visitation stories, my favorites, scripture passages of Mary and Elizabeth. We experience the prayers, first declared by Zechariah and Mary, that are now prayed each and every day, the Benedictus and the Magnificat, in the Liturgy of the Hours, at Morning and Evening Prayer respectively.

How might some of these remaining days of Advent help you prepare for Christmas? How can we experience the joy that would leave us singing a “new Song sound in us”? With last minute baking, shopping or cleaning left to do, can you create time to enter into the rich tradition of our Church lived through scripture or the praying of the O Antiphons? What do you desire in these final days of Advent so that you feel ready to welcome Emmanuel, God With Us?

Peace be with you, Deena

Photo from Shutterstock on PicMonkey

Visit the monks at St John’s Abbey and scroll down to find the nightly singing of the O Antiphons


Advent – December 11, 2022

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song. Isaiah 35

Isaiah continues in Chapter 35 by describing a world that will see the splendor of God, where hands are strong and knees are firm (ok, that part of the prophecy hits home), the frightened are now fearless and unafraid, eyes and ears seeing and hearing and the lame able to leap and move about. The prophet continues to talk about a new world order, as I shared last week. It’s a beautiful vision to hold and rejoice in during this Third Week of Advent.

Today after a parish cookie sale, I dropped off our excess cookies at the homeless shelter. The person that greeted me said that the cookies would be appreciated because there are so many children staying at the shelter at the moment. It broke my heart. You don’t have to look far to see similar stories of hardship, just watch the news. I know families grieving the loss of a loved one as we prepare for Christmas, and in two specific cases, one in my area and another in Baton Rouge, two families trying to navigate life after the suicide of 13 year sons. Weather catastrophes, homelessness, violence – how do we rejoice? Where do we see glimpses of the world to come? We have faith that when Jesus comes again, we’ll see the glory of the Lord. But what about now?

I am in a weekly prayer group that began about 4 years ago after attending a weekend parish retreat. We select different books or programs to study and discuss. We are currently reading the Advent and Christmas Reflection book by Word on Fire, The Word Became Flesh. One of the homilies included for reflection in the book was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was a Benedictine Abbott and major leader in the reformation of the Benedictine order. He was canonized a short time after his death and named a Doctor of the Church in 1830. I was awestruck! St. Bernard writes in dramatic fashion of the brief moment that the Angel Gabriel is waiting for Mary to respond yes, her fiat. He writes that God needs Mary to respond yes, to give her consent to the angel, for the fulfillment of salvation to take place, and that the rest of humanity waits in anticipation. It is one of the most moving pieces I have read. (The homily can be found in the Office of Readings, for the Fourth Week of Advent, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the “Divine Office” or Breviary.)

I have been thinking about that homily all week. I don’t mean these next ponderings on the same level of importance as Mary’s fiat, but I wonder if God waits for our consent, the decisions we make and actions toward others, to be part of the plan of bringing love and hope in the world. Does God wait for us to help provide hope to those we encounter?

Perhaps God places desires in our heart as way to serve. Perhaps God waits with a similar anticipation for us to stand in our “yes” to those desires, our call.

One of my favorite prayers is by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman regarding our mission in life. It was shared in class when I was in the Lay Ministry program in our Diocese. I have never forgotten it and when I wonder about my purpose or have a decision to make, I often return to this prayer.

This is the beginning of the prayer:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

As we try to identify and live that mission, we can live in an Advent spirit of Gaudete, Rejoice. We help our world move a step closer to that vision that Isaiah shares of the ransomed returned and where sorrow and mourning are ceased. If not ceased, maybe paused for just a moment. We enter singing, crowned with an everlasting joy that cannot be filled by the passing moments of this world. We anticipate and look to that day, as we do this Advent for Christmas, with hearts full of rejoicing and joyful song.

Peace be with you, Deena

Image by Shutterstock on PicMonkey


Advent – December 4, 2022

On this Second Sunday of Advent we hear about a new world order. It certainly doesn’t sound like the world we live in today. The world feels more chaotic, like we should be listening to the voice of the prophet John the Baptist, calling us all to reform and repent. Yet, Isaiah tells us of a world that will be filled with justice, harmony, animals that usually attack each other lying down peacefully together, and the ultimate prize, peace for ever.

While we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and again, at the end of time, we seek that peace in our hearts and in our families. Our daily prayers help us to vision the world that Isaiah foretells. They help us to slow down, to listen, to be still in the midst of our holiday shopping, baking and preparations. To see the world differently, to be a bit kinder.

But in the scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, I was most struck by St Paul’s letter to the Romans. St. Paul tells us that the God of endurance and encouragement will help us to think in harmony with one another and that with one voice we will glorify God. He asks us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Harmony? One voice? This can seem like a remote fantasy too.

If you have ever visited a Benedictine Monastery, you have experienced that kind of being welcomed that St. Paul speaks of. The community makes sure that your needs are taken care of and that you have someone to guide you to chapel, that you feel included and part of communal prayer. In The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53, The Reception of Guests, Benedict writes that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”

Can you imagine if we spent our days trying to see Christ in others? The person that races up behind you in the car or cuts you off? The grouchy clerk that tosses your items down to the end of the checkout counter like a frisbee? The colleague that says they are listening but is distracted the entire time? The politicians we don’t agree with? The governments around the world abusing our natural resources? I am sure we can all come up with a list of people we are challenged to see as the body of Christ standing before us.

One of the daily prayer guides I use for reflection and daily Mass is Give Us This Day. I read editor, Mary Stommes’ reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent on Welcome. She talks about Advent as a time that exists right now but also not yet. She says “The thing is, the more clearly we see Christ, the more Advent will cut to our core. The more we will realize that hope and hurt are close companions. The more we will recognize our own sinfulness, the ‘harm and ruin’ we inflict within and without.” (December issue, Second Sunday of Advent Reflection.).

I am challenged to look at how I encounter others when I am distracted or in a bad mood. Do I set aside my own concerns and look for the face of Christ in the person standing right in front of me? Can I say a silent prayer for the person that I see as treating me unfairly? Where am I inflicting “harm and ruin” by being angry at or judging others? Are you willing to join me on this challenge this week?

My prayer is that we find opportunities to be kinder, more welcoming and hospitable to those we encounter each day this week. If we can, then I think we close the gap a bit between the way the world is today and the way we long for it to be. We help prepare the way and help make straight the path. We help water the roots so a bud of peace will blossom.

Peace be with you, Deena

Note: I highly recommend subscribing to Give Us This Day if you don’t already.

Image by Laura Nyhuis on Unsplash

Summertime, let’s make the living easy

I read a quote posted on social media this morning from an author and “behavioral change” expert I follow, Karen Salmansohn that said “Sit. Breathe. There are 1440 minutes in a day. You can use 3 of them for self care.” I have been challenging myself to do it more – more pauses to breath, to sit on a patio for a few minutes with the cats to listen to the birds and enjoy my flowers, to make a cup of tea, or to read. Simply, more savoring the moment and giving myself permission to pause.

I recall from trips to Europe that there were times in the afternoon when the shops closed and people rested. A riposo (in Italy or siesta in Spain) is a time to break from the summer heat, have a meal, and spend time with family. The English have the lovely tradition of pausing for afternoon tea. In the past that might have been an energy drink or tea at my desk, which is getting up but not really pausing. I am being more intentional about taking a break after working in the morning and early afternoon, before starting my errands or tasks, to take a few moments of quiet rest or stillness. You might still be at work full-time so this sounds impossible, but perhaps it could be to step away from your desk to the break-room area or a picnic table outside. I wonder how the rest of the afternoon might go after a few relaxing minutes?

Over the past few years the invitation to make Sunday the “Lord’s Day” has hit home for me. It was harder to do when working full-time than it has been the past couple of years, but I have been pausing on Sunday to read, journal, pray and reflect or spend time with family. It is not a day for errands, washing clothes or cleaning. In the Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict, the guidance is to use Sunday for reading. In Jane Tomaine’s book, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, we are reminded that Benedict creates a balance of daily activities that are comprised of “work and prayer, study and recreation, rest and activity, time alone and time together”. Taking time for self-care, physical and spiritual, is an important aspect of this balance. Jane reminds us that even St. Benedict allowed a time of rest for the monks, on their beds, after lunch.

Yesterday, after watering the flowers and plants in the landscaping, I paused to rest from the heat but also to enjoy the beauty of the plants flourishing around me. For those of you with school children or grandchildren, the school year has concluded. Days and activities change, days at the pool or evening baseball games are now part of the schedule. How can you find a moment to enjoy the time outside allowing it to restore and nurture you, despite the busy schedule. Of course, don’t forget to protect your skin from the sun too!

If I have learned one thing living with cats it is to stretch and take long naps. Even though they are in the house with the air conditioning, they seem to slow down a bit in the summer, savoring the time to rest during the afternoon heat.

I was reminded of the song Summertime this morning when I sat down to write this. I thought you might enjoy a couple of different renditions of the song. Stop for a few minutes, pause and breathe as you listen to one or all of them.

Peace, Deena

Ella Fitzergerald: Summertime

Norah Jones: Summertime

George Gershwin’s Summertime by the All Virginia Orchestra 2014