Sunday, November 29, 2009

Around the Parishes in South Philadelphia

Just a reminder that there will be a Family Holy Hour next Sunday, December 6th at St. Monica Church at 17th and Ritner Streets at 7 pm. There will be Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, readings, hymns and the Divine Mercy Chaplet will be sung.

Also, St. Monica's will also start its annual Novena to Our Lady of Grace leading up to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mass and Novena prayers will be said daily at 8 and 9 am and again at 7pm starting tomorrow.

Finally, Mass in the Extraordinary Form will be offered at St. Paul Church at 10th and Christian Streets on Tuesday, Dec. 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, at 7pm in the evening.

First Sunday in Advent: Sleepers Awake!

I heard more than one homily this weekend about the seemingly doom-and-gloom readings and Gospel for the start of Advent but all were sobering reminders of the need to remain vigilant. We can be seduced by the things of this world without even realizing it. Even the necessary activities of our daily lives can be traps if we aren't careful. Many is the time I have to remind myself that in every thought, word and deed I must be mindful of the will of God and not let pass a single opportunity to serve Him.

Sometimes, we are so accustomed to reacting to certain situations in a particular way that we become insulated from our own faults. Luckily, I have some live-in critics (kids) who are quick to let me know if they find any behavior on my part less than Christian. On Thursday, we had a guest who joins us every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas because he has no other place to go. While I was serving the turkey and the 10 sides dishes that went with it, he asked me a detailed question about something that I told him I would answer a little later because I was too consumed with getting everything on the table. My oldest pointed out later that I should have been a little more patient in the way I responded. I would have to say looking inward that impatience is probably one of my biggest faults, and what a selfish one it is. Impatience means I still haven't learned to put myself aside and that I haven't relinquished my attachment to my own will.

None of us are perfect, but we're not excused from trying. And every time I think I have conquered some other fault, I am enlightened to the fact that I have plenty of others. Before I hang a single decoration or bake a single batch of cookies, I pray for God to give me the strength to lose myself more and more every day so that I may be a worthy instrument of His Holy Will.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Attacks on the Church

In today's Inquirer was a letter to the editor from yet another Catholic-basher. Of course, he made the obligatory sex-abuse scandal reference. After I regained my composure, I responded to the misinformed author of the letter and pointed out the following:

- the sex-abuse scandal has nothing at all to do with the subject at hand and has become a cheap canard for attackers of the Church to use whenever they fail to develop a legitimate argument. The majority of priests knew nothing about and had nothing to do with this scandal and were deeply hurt by it and it is unfair to keep throwing this up in their faces.

-it is the official teaching of the Church that extra-marital sex is a sin, and that sex between a married couple should be unitive and procreative. Therefore, it would be incongruous for the church to sanction the use of artificial birth control.

-the same Church which condemns artificial birth control and abortion is the same church that is the primary provider of care to unwed mothers, AIDS victims and other social outcasts who are often rejected by their own families. The Catholic Church is also the major provider of foster care and adoption for children born out of wedlock so to call the Church hypocritical is erroneous.

I suspect the author is a former Catholic with an axe to grind, but who knows? The important thing is that such opinions do not go unchallenged. Also, out of charity, we are compelled to correct such thinking. I ended the letter politely - I refuse to stoop to the level from which the letter was written and would advise the same.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day After

As I sit here still in a coma from overindulgence of carbs, I'm laughing at the number of text messages my sister got at dinner from cooks who had an assortment of turkey disasters to relate - from the frozen- in- the- middle turkey to the person who forgot to remove the giblet bag. Too funny.

At any rate, once the guests left and I could collapse on the couch in front of the Broncos/Giants game, I was appalled to see one ad after another hawking a 4am bugle call for shoppers on the hunt for bargains. I'm not one for Black Friday shopping so the last place you'd ever see me is in line at Wal-Mart in the wee hours ready to pounce. This practice is one of the saddest I associate with the Christmas season. How many of the folks in line do YOU think will even take the time to go to Mass on Sunday or better yet, get in line for Confession on Christmas Eve? Some year I would like to get to one of these greed-fests and hand out little cards reminding people of the Reason for the Season. Until then, I'm content to do my part by refusing to participate in the commercial version of Christmas.

Before coming home to the Catholic Church some years ago, I attended an Anglo-catholic, or Episcopal, church which had a very strong outreach program for the homeless. It was the tradition to hold a breakfast on the Saturday before Christmas for all of the soup-kitchen regulars and present them with gift bags of items needed for survival on the streets. One year, I got put in charge of this which essentially means you go out and buy everything that everyone else forgot to get. It was exhausting but it pretty much changed the way I had always looked at Christmas. Sure, there were the few who probably didn't really need what was in the gift bag but a good many of the men were genuinely grateful and touched that someone remembered them. A few were in tears. The gift bag contained a change of underwear, thermal underwear, hat and gloves, toiletries and a rain poncho. It also contained a little baggie full of homemade Christmas cookies. You would think from the reaction that we were giving away 20 dollar bills.

It is said that it's better to give than to receive. What's not said is that when you give genuinely from the heart, you receive something to which nothing can compare. As Mother Teresa said, Christ is there, present in the distressing disguise of the poor, and when we minister to such people, we heed His call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned. For those who might be tempted to call me a bleeding heart liberal, allow me to share this with you.

Yesterday, I realized I had no whipped cream for the pumpkin pie so I abandoned my post in the kitchen to make a quick run to the ACME. I ran into a man I had met there a few years ago who offered to carry bags for change. I enjoyed talking to Nate as we walked to my car and one day I asked him what put him on the street. He told me it was a combination of drugs and alcohol and how much he would love to be free of both demons. He also wanted nothing more than a real job but with no address, he couldn't get the documentation he needed to get one. I did a little investigating and found out about Ready, Willing and Able - the Doe Fund that helps people like Nate get back on their feet. I asked Nate how ready he was to change his life and he assured me he was. The Doe Fund got him into rehab and then gave him a place to live and a low-paying job. When they felt he was ready, they sent him to a halfway house and found him another low-paying job. Now he's clean enough to live with his sister and while he doesn't earn enough money to be able to afford a place of his own, he isn't drinking or taking drugs and he told me he had been looking for me for months to share his good news with me. In reality, I had nothing at all to do with Nate's success. All I did was simply allow Christ to act through me in helping one of the least ones among us. I thank Him for putting Nate in my path.

Give a man a fish, you feed him for one day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Anti-Catholic Editorial in Today's Philadelphia Inquirer

Today on its editorial page, the Inquirer has as its central op-ed piece a scathing attack on American bishops who advise pro-abortion Catholic politicians not to receive Holy Communion if they continue to fail to defend innocent life through their legislative efforts. If possible, think about sending a letter of rebuttal to the Inquirer. If they get enough letters, they might, as they have in the past, dedicate a whole editorial page to these letters because of the overwhelming response they have gotten. Plus, you never know how just one letter might influence someone who is on the fence. You can email responses to:

The Inquirer does not publish anonymous letters but if the editorial board chooses your letter, they will contact you for verification and ask permission to publish your email address, which you are under no obligation to grant.

Also, don't be discouraged when attackers bring up the sex abuse scandal. One thing has nothing to do with the other and the scandal is now an easy canard for attackers to use to distract attention from what they're doing. You can read the editorial yourself at the following:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow

Thanksgiving crept up on me much faster than it normally does, probably because I was out of the country only a week ago. I had the presence of mind to order my turkey from Harry Ochs in the Reading Terminal Market before I left for Panama and I picked it up last Saturday morning in my little shopping cart. The butcher was nice enough to load the turkey in the cart for me, thus avoiding further strain on my ailing back. Right now, it's soaking in a nice brine solution so that it will be flavorful and juicy tomorrow when I roast it.

The morning will begin with me putting The Bird in the oven and then leaving for Mass at St. Paul's. We'll have too much food and dessert but the nice part is being able to send leftovers home with my guests so they don't have to cook one night in the next few days. It will just be the immediate family and a friend of my husband's who has no place to go or anyone to be with. I tried to persuade one of the janitorial crew at work to join us tomorrow but he insisted he has a place to go. I can't stand the thought of anyone eating alone on Sundays or holidays.

I can't imagine a Thanksgiving that doesn't begin by thanking God in the Real Presence of His Son for the blessings of the past year. The fact that no one is seriously ill, that we have jobs and a roof over our heads, that the worst loss we faced this past year was that of a pet and not, thank God, a child - acknowledgement of these favors comes before the bird, the football, and the pie. When I was growing up, the only day of the year on which we said grace was Thanksgiving. It wasn't until I met my husband's family that I encountered the practice of giving thanks before every meal, every day. Now my children are trained to give thanks for their meal no matter where they are and I'm proud of my son, who will quickly remind us in a restaurant or other public place if we forget. It's a simple way to bear witness to our faith.

All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine Own have we given Thee. Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Politics and Religion

As you may know if you've been following the news over the past several days, there is a very public battle going on between Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy criticized the American bishops for opposing any health-care reform legislation that would fund abortion. In turn, Bishop Tobin took Kennedy to task for putting politics ahead of his faith and went so far as to say that he should not present himself for Holy Communion.

Sadly, too many of our Catholic politicians cast the teachings of their church aside in favor of political expediency or gain. Coming to Rep. Kennedy's defense was Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, who is another Catholic politician in name only who totally doesn't get it. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion is an intrinsic evil. A politician cannot say he or she is personally opposed to abortion and then support or sponsor any legislation that protects the so-called right to choose (choose what? infanticide? ) Rep. Murphy went on to say that a pries refused to "bless" his marriage because of his public stance on abortion.

What does it mean to be Catholic? It doesn't mean picking and choosing what we will and will not obey. For one who puts the will of God ahead of his or her own will, it's not difficult to be obedient, especially if that obedience is borne out of love for God. I'm sure Bishop Tobin did not enjoy publicly taking Patrick Kennedy to task but he would be remiss in his duties as a faithful shepherd if had simply ignored the Congressman, particularly when his scandal was public. We can all hope and pray that elected officials like Kennedy and Murphy will come to see the precious treasure we have in the Eucharist and how nothing or no one can be permitted to profane the Lord by receiving Him while not in a state of grace. It's not possible to call one's self a faithful Catholic while openly flouting the direction of a bishop. Bishop Tobin deserves our support for his courage in going where not many bishops and other clergy have had the courage to go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Operation Walk November 2009

It is tough to know where to begin. We arrived in Panama close to 11 pm Thursday (Panama is in the same time zone as we are on the East coast) and by the time we got to our hotel rooms, it was 1 am! We had to be at breakfast at 6 am to hear about our assignments for the day and this lack of sleep was to become a norm. By the end of the trip, most of us were running on sheer adrenaline.

We arrived at Hospital San Tomas around 7 am but nearly all the entrances were blocked by numerous rescue vehicles. When we finally got to the hospital and were in the cargo room on the 5th floor, we saw why - a massive tree had fallen early in the morning and smashed a car that was being driven by an intern who had just made rounds at the pediatric hospital. It took the firemen hours to remove his body because they had to chop the massive tree in pieces before they could get to him. It was a very sad way to begin our mission.

At any rate, we spent hours in a hot room going through supplies and building packs for the surgeries. At noon we got word that the Panamanian doctors were finishing for the day and we would have 4 OR's at 1 pm. It was pretty much what one would expect of a third-world hospital. Very few resources, antiquated equipment and less than ideal conditions. At home, we work in rooms that are nearly freezing cold. Here, it was difficult not to complain about the heat. Soon, the first patients arrived and in just one afternoon we were able to provide about 6 joint replacements.
After the surgeries concluded we were sent back to the cargo room to build more packs for the following day - single knee or hip, bilateral knee or hip. Everyone was pretty much exhausted but no one dared complain. Around 10 pm we left to go back to the hotel where a lovely buffet dinner was waiting. My roommate got home an hour after I did and she was too wired to sleep, so we talked to nearly 1 am which isn't very conducive when you need to get up at 5:30 am.

Saturday was a repeat of Friday except the American surgeons had the run of the OR except for a few trauma rooms. Many of the Panamanian nurses were there to observe and help translate as best as they could. I left the hospital around 6:30 pm for a trip to the Panama Canal. Anyone who was new to Panama and Operation Walk was permitted to go. It was quite an experience as we got to see several large tankers pass through the locks. We were given a private tour of the musuem and then headed to dinner at the invitation of Dr. Booth. Again, it was midnight before we got home.

I was very fortunate to be able to attend Mass Sunday morning at 6 am. I barely caught a word that I understood and the Mass was very different from what we do here in the US. The tabernacle was off to the side, the congregation never knelt for the Consecration and I couldn't even recognize the Gloria or the Creed. The sermon sounded like a Spanish fire and brimstone variety and the few words I caught were that the treasures of earth amount to nothing in the end and where do we choose to go? I was completely mesmerized by the statue of the Virgin of Mt. Carmel that sat above the altar surrounded by red votive lights. It was the most beautiful depiction of the Blessed Mother I'd ever seen. I couldn't linger to take photos because I had to catch the next bus to the hospital. We operated until nearly 6 pm Sunday and then we were treated to dinner at a fun Panamanian restaurant by Dr. Dennis. The next day we operated until about 4 in the afternoon, and then we had to be in the lobby by 7pm to go to a reception in our honor at the Union Club. I used the down time to back over to the church to take some photos and pray my Rosary. The guardian angel who looked after us, Alfredo, a wealthy philanthropist committed to making the lives of others better, arranged the dinner and provided traditional Panamanian dancers to entertain us.

The next morning, we attended a reception at the hospital with the President and First Lady of Panama along with the remaining total joint patients we did. In less than four days, we did 64 joint replacements for 59 patients (some had bilateral joints). Many of our patients went home the day after their surgeries. One of the patients the group had done last April came and she was a marvel to see. She had been wheelchair-bound for 10 years until Operation Walk replaced both hips and she was overjoyed to see the surgeon who had helped her. One of the patients walked to greet the president and first lady and then President Martinelli shook hands with each and every one of us and thanked us for our help.

Afterward, we left for an afternoon of relaxation at Alfredo's idyllic beach house on the Pacific. I was struck by how in every room of his house, there was no shortage of Bible passages. I pray for God to give him more wealth because he uses most of it to help others. He was truly an inspiration. We got home around 8 and everyone packed up for home.

We arrived back in the US a little before 4 yesterday.

Panama is a country of extremes - opulence here, abject poverty there. As we were traveling to one of our destinations, I saw one-legged man hopping along the side of the highway as fast as someone running on two legs. He had no crutches or walker and he was a picture of both tragedy and triumph. For me, he summed up the difficult circumstance many of these people live with as well as their determination and ability to make do. We learned as a group that we were capable of reaching down and finding more to get the job done. We had very little help and a great deal of work. Things we are accustomed to in our own OR were not to be had in Panama but we managed. It was fun sometimes to have to improvise so that we could get the job done well.

Anyway, it was a wonderful experience. I thank God for putting these people in our paths so we could carry out His Holy Will and for bringing us home safely and looking after my family in my absence.



Monday, November 9, 2009

Operation Walk

Tonight will be the last time I post for a little while. I am leaving for Panama City, Panama on Thursday as part of Operation Walk Philadelphia. We will be providing needy patients with total hip and knee replacements. This is my first medical mission and I'm looking forward to it but I do have quite a bit of anxiety about leaving my family for a week, especially for another country.

If you would, please say a prayer for the safety of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who will be making this journey. Although Operation Walk is not a Catholic organization, the hospital we will be working in is. Please pray also that everyone conducts themselves in a worthy manner and that we are able to do some good while we are there. I helped get some of the supplies together, which was an enormous undertaking for the woman placed in charge of this, and I'm also praying that we have everything we need. We will be using a lot of equipment we're not entirely familiar with so we're hopeful that we haven't overlooked anything.

I nearly said no to this trip, not only because I have two high-needs children but also because I couldn't stand the thought of missing Mass. As fate would have it, our hotel is directly across from a church run by Carmelites, Iglesia de Nuestra Senor del Carmen ( or, the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel). How's that for luck? What's more, the logistics coordinator called Panama and got a Mass schedule and I've been assured that the organizers will see to it that I and anyone else who is inclined will at least get to Sunday Mass (the first of which is scheduled for 6 am Sunday morning). The bulk of our surgeries will be done on the weekend because most of the Panamanian surgeons don't operate then, so I was a bit concerned but not so much anymore.

One of these days, I will figure out how to post photos to this blog and I will share pictures of not only the patients but the church as well. It's known as a remarkable example of Gothic architecture. At any rate, I will be spending the next two nights getting some meals together for the family for when I'm away and packing. It's hot and humid in Panama so it's a bit unusual for me to have to pack summer clothes. I'm also told the Panamanians often ask the American nurses to give them their scrubs at the end of each work day, so I've packed some extras to leave behind.

I don't know that I'll be able to leave my family like this again for at least a little while so I'm going to make the most of this and offer every moment to God. In the future, our group may consider doing a mission in another country since they've run a number of missions to Panama already. I would dearly love to go to India, where there is great need for medical missions. God-willing, that will happen some day.

See you sometime next week! God Bless you

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Advent Women's Silent Retreat at the Carmelite Monastery

The annual women's silent Advent retreat will take place at the Carmelite Monastery on Saturday, Dec. 5th. The retreat master is Father William Ricchuiti, OSA, associate pastor of the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia. The day begins with Mass at 8 am and includes 2 spiritual conferences, confessions, all-day Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and Rosary and concludes with Benediction at 4pm. Continental breakfast and lunch are included. The cost is $25 and space is limited. Any interested women, please leave me your email address and I'll forward the information to you. The utmost silence will be kept. This is a beautiful way to give yourself to God for a day and enrich your observance of Advent. At lunchtime there will be an opportunity to do some Christmas shopping in the Avila Bookstore, which features one of the most comprehensive selections of Catholic books, devotions and sacramentals.

A friend invited me to this retreat a few years ago and I wish everyone would have the opportunity to participate at least once.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

First Saturday Devotion to Mary

The following words were spoken to Sister Lucia, one of the three visionaries of Fatima, by the Blessed Virgin Mary:

"Look, daughter, my Heart is all pierced with thorns, which men drive into it every moment with their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you at least seek to console me, and let men know that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, will:

1. Go to confession and receive Holy Communion
2. Recite the Rosary
3. Keep me company during a quarter of an hour, meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation."

I'm so struck by Mary's third request - to keep her company for fifteen minutes by meditating on the Gospel mysteries of the Rosary. Even though she is the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God, Mary still desires OUR company. Which one of us would hesitate to console her in this way?

This is also a good time to make a little pitch here - every Saturday morning at 8am you are most welcome to join us for Mass at St Paul Church, 10th and Christian Streets, in honor of Mary, and after Mass, to stay and pray the Rosary for priests, followed by Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. If you can't make it every Saturday, why not try for the First Saturday of the month? Your prayerful presence will help to make reparation for the wounds inflicted on her Immaculate Heart and enlist her aid for our priests, who are Mary's sons in a most special way because of the brotherhood they share with Jesus Christ her Son, the Eternal High Priest.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Holy Hour For Priests Today at 3 pm

Sorry this is late but for those who can make it, there will be a Holy Hour for Priests between 3 and 4 today at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at 3rd and Wolf Streets in South Philadelphia. The faithful are invited to attend as part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's year-long observation of the Year of the Priest.

I've been away from the blog for a few days but hope to offer a reflection or two tomorrow.

God Bless

Monday, November 2, 2009

Departed Souls

Today, we remember the faithful who have gone before us in the hope of rising again with Christ. A priest once told me that when you pray for a soul that has not yet gone to Heaven, Our Lord goes to the person to console them with the knowledge that someone remembered them in prayer. Every day in my own prayers I try to remember all the souls in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them. Some day, I will be where they are, God-willing, and they will reciprocate.

I especially remember my brother-in-law, Fred, who God called home at a time of great personal happiness for him and his wife. They had tried for years to have a child of their own and after giving up, were surprised to learn that Tina was pregnant. Little Maria was only three when Fred was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, to which he succumbed in a matter of weeks. I remember driving home from his funeral at dusk, and seeing the beauty of a barn set against a backdrop of leafless trees, illuminated by the setting November sun. In the sadness of the quiet ride home on the Turnpike, that little glimpse of the beauty of God's creation, seen fleetingly through the car window, provided much solace. May Fred's soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Our Saints

Today, the Church recognizes all its saints - those with a capital S who have been canonized and all those with a small s who have earned their heavenly reward. What are saints? Some define a saint as a Christian who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Not every saint could be a Joan of Arc, the improbable teenaged girl who led armies of her fellow Frenchmen to victory over the English. Some were hidden from the world, like Therese of Lisieux who underwent a simultaneous martyrdom of mind, body and soul while living as a cloistered religious in a Carmel. Some were privileged to be visionaries, like St. Bernadette of Lourdes and St. Catherine Laboure.

Some of the saints certainly did not start life out on the right foot, spiritually speaking. St. Paul persecuted the early Christians. St. Augustine fathered a child out of wedlock and caused his mother, St. Monica, much agony and grief. St. Margaret of Cortona led a life of promiscuity that would have earned her a death by stoning in Biblical times. These saints especially give hope to those who have lived a life of sin that with God's grace, anything is possible.

Growing up with a grandmother who was born in Calabria, Italy, I was educated early in life on the lives of the saints. My grandmother had a shrine that would make some of our churches green with envy for her collection of fine Italian statuary that depicted so many images that we are familiar with; St. Anthony of Padua, holding the Christ child; St. Lucy holding a plate with two eyes resting on it; St. Therese, pressing her crucifix and a bouquet of roses to her heart, and countless other saints. These were my role models and I loved reading about their lives in stories which were modified for children. I thought, for example, that St. Therese had sent of shower of literal roses to earth after her death and that the sure way to know if a relative went to heaven was if roses fell from the sky. As an adult with children of my own, I know a bit better.

Few, if any of us, will be canonized after our deaths. While we are alive, we can do our best to imitate the saints in giving ourselves over completely to Christ. We can admire them but more importantly we can emulate them and realize that they, like us, were completely human and given to the same weaknesses we are. We can use their own examples to overcome our personal weaknesses so that we, too, may rejoice with them in heaven one day.

"Led on their way by this triumphant sign, the Hosts of God in conquering rank combine"!