Lord, make us more sensitive to grace and to each other…

Grieving… it’s part of the human condition, the everyday business of living our lives. Grief is associated with mourning the loss of someone we love. We could say, however, that grief can accompany the loss of anything that our lives touch, honor, create, possess.

These pandemic lockdown months of uncertainty are filled with such loss. The sharp still-fresh pangs of uncertainty around the possibilities and realities of loss over a long stretch of weeks and months have strangely and helpfully made me super-sensitive to loss. To the losses that unsettle not only my own heart, but the hearts of others who bear wounds so much greater than mine with consequences that will far outlast the pandemic….

To be rejected by a spouse, to lose a child to unexpected illness or death, to see a future so carefully built collapse through the destructiveness or spite of another, to be caught in cycles of abuse or self-hate….

I see these stories on social media and receive their pain in letters. In this new heart-awareness it is as though I can almost reach out and touch their hands in a compassionate I-am-here-for-you, I-feel-with-you. I hear their longing to be seen, protected and understood in music, in news stories, and am touched by the poignancy of their pain represented in art. I am grateful, so very grateful that a deeper sensitivity to others’ sufferings is growing within me.

On this feast of St. Monica and St. Augustine (celebrated this past Thursday and Friday) I imagine how Monica might have felt, and so many who like this faithful and persevering woman live and love in the midst of sometimes horrific sorrows. Giovanni Falbo in Saint Monica the Power of a Mother’s Love describes Monica’s relationship with her husband Patricius. Although she sought to treat him with honor and kindness, Patricius could be arrogant, impetuous, carnal, and violent. It was difficult for Monica to even speak with him. Often she had to wait until his anger blew over before she could present to him her thoughts and opinions. Nevertheless, the way he verbally lashed out at her must have cut deep. She never responded in kind, but instead waited for the right moment to confront. Women at that time had little recourse to improving the conditions in which they lived, but Falbo called Monica “a competent strategist” who led Patricius gradually toward truth and goodness, and eventually to God.

Saint Monica’s advice: three strategies for growing in both sensitivity and in strategy when life is unexpectedly tough

  1. Pray for eyes to see. Monica knew who she was and who her husband was. She was able to “see” with the deeper eyes of the heart without ignoring or discounting her needs for safety and respect and his needs for the truth and light. She knew that Patricius had a good heart deep down.
  2. Honor the experience of loss. Don’t run from loss or wish it away, but take into your heart the solitude of your own suffering as well as the suffering of all others who are bearing the same thing.
  3. Be willing to become someone other than who you’ve been. The choices St. Monica made in relating with her husband made her stronger and gentler, a mentor of other women who struggled in their marriages, and—in the end—the mother of so many tears who won the conversion of her son Augustine. Through the twenty years in which Patricius lived with Monica, he grew to respect her serenity and Christian virtue, He saw in her life a strength and grace that was not of her own doing. Conquered by grace, he entered the catechumenate and was baptized shortly before he died. St. Monica’s courage changed her into a deeper lover for Jesus, and in the end changed her husband and son.

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, recounts a parallel story of courage and transformation in her new book, Complaints of the Saints. Daphrose Mukansanga Rugamba (1944–1994) was in an arranged marriage to Cyprien Rugamba (1935-1994). Their marriage was very fruitful, and they had ten children, but Cyprien was unfaithful to Daphrose and neglected his family.

He allowed Daphrose to raise the children as Catholics, but he had no patience with religion. Once in her presence he took a crucifix off the wall and smashed it. Eventually they separated.

In 1982 Cyprien was struck by a rapid paralyzing illness and wrote a song about his coming death. This song became the means of tremendous spiritual light and grace in both his life and that of Daphrose. She could have remained a bitter person. He could have carried on through his illness without a thought for God and his wife. Instead both decided to become more godly and to collaborate with God’s plan as he revealed it to them. They reached out to street children, introduced the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rwanda and tried to end the ethnic tensions threatening the society in the early 90s. Both Daphrose and Cyprien were assassinated along with six of their children in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The cause for their canonization was opened in 2015.

Friends, we are in this together.

We are in the same boat of life.
We all suffer in one way or another and have so many reasons
to complain about our lot in life.
May this prolonged “experiment” of living intentionally
the uncertainty and loss of 2020
make us more sensitive to grace and to each other.
Let us take each other by the arm and run together,
our hearts open to love and loving,
into the interweaving of courage and compassion,
believing in the future,
believing in each other,
trusting in the tender heart of Love
who is ever and always

St. Monica and St. Augustine,
Daphrose and Cyprien Rugamba,
pray for us.

Finding solace in the company of the saints in good times as well as in difficult stretches of the journey can help us both complain and praise, lament and love. Here are some of my favorites:

Saint Monica: The Power of a Mother’s Love

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic

God is All Joy: The Life of St Teresa of the Andes

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope

Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words

If you wish to speak with someone about your struggle and get some insight and practical tools to go forward with greater peace, email me at: startheartwork@gmail.com

Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Trust this, my friend

Julian of Norwich has always been my go-to wisdom figure when things are uncertain and pain-filled. She is utterly realistic here. We will come across times in our life when the ground is shifting and the storm blurs the way forward. Jesus himself walked resolutely through the darkness of Calvary. The important word is “through.” Because we are always and forever held in the precious love of God for us, in his strong yet tender embrace, and our walking forward is always a walking through to resurrection. Trust that, my friend.

Tabernacle of the Heart II: Finding Our Way to the Treasures of the Heart

Twenty years ago I was tormented by constant headaches. These headaches would last for days and were seemingly resistant to anything I tried to be rid of them. They became a constant companion of my every day, they were a torment of continually sleepless nights.

I gave up on OTC medicine to lessen the pounding in my head and just plowed through my work, trying to push them out of my awareness. It never worked but there was always hope in trying.

A friend shared with me a book that held on one page, in one sentence, through one word the key that begin my journey to a headache free. Surrender. Surrender to the pain. Accept it. Welcome it.

The natural thing for the body to do is to fight it. Instead welcome it.

So I did. And the headaches immediately lessened in intensity. I was elated and curious.

Why? Why did such a simple change in attitude make such a dramatic change on my physical pain?

Shortly after, a friend of the community visited. In the conversation I mentioned something about what I was noticing and she said she suffered from headaches herself. She told me that instead of welcoming them to get rid of them, I should be welcoming them and enter into the space of the welcoming, into the enlarging of my heart that was surrendering and accepting.

Armed with this suggestion I went about figuring out how I was supposed to do this. My heart. I had spent so much time focusing on my headaches, that befriending my heart was a foreign concept.

My heart.

That night I sat up in my room, sleepless as usual. My heart. I know I am feeling something. In my heart. I don’t feel anything. For several hours I sat in the silent darkness trying to become aware of what I felt. Trying to feel my feelings that somehow were related to the gradually dulling ache in my head.

Each night I took the journey out of my head into my body where the tight and taut muscles mirrored the tightness of the headaches, or perhaps they created the headaches. Who knows. Gradually, as I explored the physical sensations of tension, I found my way to my heart.

It too was tight, but in a different way. During those endlessly sleepless nights, I sat at the door of my heart and learned to feel its pain and to describe it with different words. Closed. Defended. Guarded. Shrouded. Withdrawn.

In this odyssey through the sensations of my physicality which brought me to the door of my heart, my headaches lessened until eventually they ceased altogether.

There at heart’s door I learned that I couldn’t pry open the door as I had tried to rid myself of the headaches. I couldn’t demand. It worked on no timetable of mine. The heart responds not to aggression or fearful pleas.

I had to wait.

Welcome its pain. Its fearful closing in on itself. Till it knew it was safe to trust me with its deepest sorrows and its even deeper treasures.

Can you stay with your heart’s deepest pain? Can you sit with some physical pain and ask it for its story? Take a deep breath, feel the way you are held by gravity and by the even deeper Abyss of God’s embrace. Say quietly: I am here. I am yours. I am waiting on you. I will wait always and forever. Come.

Photo by cyrus gomez on Unsplash

How we need our Mother today!

August… the month we traditionally think of heaven.

August, 2020.

Hmm. This year, I sometimes find myself wishing I could escape to heaven, at least in my imagination. It’s on a lot of people’s minds. Some of them wonder why “heaven” doesn’t do something about what’s been happening on earth this year. And between the Marian feasts of the Assumption (August 15) and the Queenship of Mary (August 22), the “vision” of heaven, though beautiful, seems remote from the struggles breaking our lives and hearts apart as the summer winds to a close.

The lyrics to my favorite hymn for the Feast of the Assumption paint a lovely picture of Mary in the blessed joy and glory of heaven: Who is she ascends so far / next the heavenly King? / Round about whom angels fly / and her praises sing.

The loving, living, giving, and suffering of her earthly life over, Mary now reigns in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth. It could almost seem a kind of well-earned eternal retirement, or a victory march, when she took her place in her coronation at the right hand of her Son. As though she lives now in some inaccessible heavenly “castle” where only royalty live!

Mary, however, as every one of her liturgical feasts reminds us, is a Mother. Still a Mother. Always a Mother. Our Mother. My Mother.

Mothers, by the beauty and grace of their sublime vocation, have an almost-superhuman willingness to sacrifice for the wellbeing of their children. Motherhood is the root and foundation of every other accomplishment and expertise a mother may bring to her role.

And how we need a Mother today! A woman who has been where we are. An exile. An immigrant. A widow. She who stood powerless but with faith beneath the cross as she watched her Son die. The woman who was the first disciple, listening to Jesus, lending her ear and then her heart to his bidding, translating it into action of love and obedient trust. We need this mother, teacher, and queen of the bewildered apostles who watched Jesus return to his Father and who, under his Mother’s guidance, began to find their way into the world as his ambassadors and witnesses.

This year, let’s focus on Mary who is standing next to us, each of us, the Mother we so long for. I don’t know about you, but I feel my mother next to me, even though she can no longer be physically near. It’s been said you never really get over the death of your mother, that you still need to feel her near.

This year we need our Mother more than ever. She does not remain in heaven, but comes into the lives of every one of us. Each of us has our own unique connection to her that grows through the years, shifting and changing, deepening and transforming.

If we feel confused, if we feel angry, if we feel lost, if our hearts are anxious, broken, or numb, she holds us in spirit as only she can, as only a Mother knows how to do.

We need our Mother this year, because so many around us need a mother.

A mother’s ear.

A mother’s embrace that says everything will be alright.

A mother’s patience that loves even as it allows a person the freedom to grow.

A mother’s heart that wisely offers the words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The Assumption and the Queenship of Mary invite us all, this year, to be a part of her motherly strength and loving care for the brothers and sisters of her Son.

Soul of Mary, sanctify me.
Heart of Mary, inflame me.
Hands of Mary, support me.
Feet of Mary, direct me.
Immaculate eyes of Mary, look upon me.
Lips of Mary, speak for me.
Sorrows of Mary, strengthen me.
O Mary, hear me.
In the wound of the Heart of Jesus, hide me.
Let me never be separated from thee.
From my enemy defend me.
At the hour of my death call me,
And bid me to come to thine Immaculate Heart;
That thus I may come to the Heart of Jesus,
And there with the saints praise thee
For all eternity. Amen. 

The Raccolta

Click here for a VIDEO Adoration Guide, Entrusting Ourselves to Mary

How Jesus Frees Us from Negative Thinking


These days of pandemic and lockdown are creating a new pandemic of mental health issues. In this podcast I address some ways in which Jesus helps us free us from the stick, heavy, and negative thinking that is part of the difficult days we are living. We’ll talk about why it’s hard to get rid of these thoughts, what Jesus knows that we forget and how he helps us get free from these sticky thoughts, ways to intentionally focus on the freeing power of truth, and more.

The Tabernacle of the Heart: Where Christ Abides Within Us

“I know you will welcome me into your house,
for I am covered by your covenant of mercy and love.
So I come to your sanctuary with deepest awe
to bow in worship and adore you.”  (Ps 5:3f. TPT)

In these days I connect with my parents with a video call each afternoon. It has been a year since I’ve been with them and it may be another year or more before I am able to go home. Being together that 20 minutes each afternoon is a gift. As the weeks go by, however, I know they are wishing they could just hug me close and bring me into their apartment, keep me safe with them, and just…be…together. Close together.

I find myself dreaming of what it will be like…that day when I can walk into their apartment once more and be wrapped in their protective hugs…

“I know you will welcome me into your house…”

This forced separation from others is making me more sensitive to the intense longing to please them, to serve them, to protect them, to hold them, to be held by them, to be welcomed and wanted, my heart watered by their tears and warmed by the sunshine of their smiles. We are all really one after all. I am beginning to sense that.

“I know you will welcome me into your house…”

We have been suffering also, many of us, from an enforced separation from the house of the Lord. Although I have a chapel in my “house” here at the convent, I worry about those who haven’t had the experience for so long of being welcomed by Christ into his house through the Eucharist celebrated as a parish on Sundays and even, for some, each day. And even if we have the immense privilege of once again going into God’s house, we cannot be close to each other.

We all need this divine welcome, even more than we need the hugs we so long for from loved ones from whom we are separated.

“So I come to your sanctuary with deepest awe
to bow in worship and adore you.”

The sanctuary lamp that has burned continually during this pandemic next to the tabernacle is the sentinel that at once announces the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and keeps him company with the flickering of a single candle representing our hearts’ desire to be with him who won for us our salvation.

God’s own love for humanity compels him to take the initiative in providing for humanity this opportunity to experience his welcome, to be comforted by his compassionate abiding, to find the way to return to him in Jesus Christ his Son.

The tabernacle in our Churches, the sanctuary lamp that bravely remains lit in the dark to point the way to the Savior, announces the meeting between heaven and earth, of God and man, of divinity and humanity, of justice and mercy, of wisdom and ignorance, of mercy and sin.

St. Ephrem writes:

When the Lord came down to earth to mortal beings
   He created them again, a new creation, like the angels,
mingling within them Fire and Spirit. (Faith 10:9)

Mary’s womb was the first “tabernacle” or abode for Jesus. How the strings of her heart were tuned to the Father of the One who had been conceived in her. She could hear the Father’s every whisper, feel the import of his every desire. She went with haste to serve her cousin Elizabeth. She went without fear into Egypt. She went without resentment to walk with her Son to Calvary. She went without sadness to the mount from which Jesus would ascend to the Father.

St. Ephrem asserts:

“The Power of the Father, compelled by His love,
descended and dwelt in a virgin womb.”

This same Love dwells in the abode of the Tabernacle in your parish Church. He is as active in the Tabernacle as he was in the womb of Mary.

When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, he “tabernacles” within our hearts. He takes up there his abode with the Father and the Spirit. Mary, who carried him in her womb for nine months, can teach us how to be attentive to him, led by him, welcomed by him.

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul” (St Elizabeth of the Trinity).

Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Arias