Lifting the World up by Beauty

Contemplation through beauty

It was a day of beauty. It was my husband’s birthday. It was the day of the Benedict XVI Institute’s Annual Lenten Prayer Service presided by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at Mission Dolores Basilica. It was the day of Philomena Iorn’s first solo concert held at the Mistlin Art Gallery in Modesto.

Prayer services take all different shapes. This one set a choir of twenty singers, called Band of Voices, to one side of the church. Frank La Rocca, the composer in residence, arranged the program, alternating between a Renaissance piece and a modern composition, commissioned by the Institute last year, using the same text.

During a Q&A time at the reception following the prayer service, La Rocca explained that there are qualities of Renaissance and modern music that align and work well together. This allowed the composers, La Rocca, Daniel Knaggs, Mark Nowakowski, and Jeffrey Quick, to deepen and explore their expression of that spiritual text. Nowakowski later explained the challenge of this task because “you have to humble yourself before the text.”

The music was spellbinding.

Without electronic amplification, the Band of Voices led by Alfred Calabrese expanded and contracted, filling the Basilica without accompaniment, moving our hearts with the physicality of music that it is only possible with the human voice or the organ. I often held back tears.

Most moving to me was “Ad Te levavi oculi meus” based on Psalm 123 composed by Nowakowski. “What makes it sound so hopeful?” I asked my husband. I perceived through the music this sense of the darkness, and yet, lifting one’s eyes to the light, through the ashes or through the fog.

“It’s very Polish,” he answered simply.

Speaking with Nowakowski I asked him about this. There is something about the years, the generations of oppression faced by a people. He inherits this cultural blood through the stories, though he grew up in Chicago. But it lives in the personal experience as well, when we meet with suffering. Heritage gives a musical language to it, even if one nation seeks to wipe out the heritage of another. Only with great difficulty could it touch the music. How do you outlaw a note? You cannot outlaw hope.

Mission Dolores Basilica

This was my first experience at the basilica. The grandeur of the church old church moved us with awe as ducked into the side doorway from the rain. It was built in 1918.

“Imagine,” I said to my daughter, “they finished this building at the end of World War I. Imagine the devastation and grief people felt at that time.” The church is dedicated the Mother of Sorrows, not running from grief or avoiding it, but knowing there is a place for grief in the church, in religion. We do not have to hide our tears.

We saw the cemetery on the mission grounds.

The ancient garden and its ancient stones, mark those who have died. It took our breath away as the rain fell softly against the leaves, the drops gathering together and dripping down the vegetation. Silence shielded the enclosure like a fog. It was a sanctuary from the rough world outside the garden walls.

We rushed back inside the basilica as the service began.

Contemplation through nature

On the drive home our windows were animated with splashes of bright yellow wildflowers against the green rolling hills, some pockets filled with bursts of orange California poppies. All were illuminated, as if they produced their own light, against the gray skies. Closer to the valley we call home, the skies opened and clouds created their own land formations, showing us just how vast it all is.

We were home for just one hour before leaving again. The children burst into the backyard and made for the trampoline. The little ones rode scooters and tricycles knowing their time outdoors was diminished in this day of the arts. They laughed and shouted and acted in all the ways children were meant to do.

Philomena and Friends

The hour passed. My husband left to play earthy Celtic music at a corned beef and cabbage dinner. The children and I drove to Modesto to see a young soprano perform heartbreaking ballads from Scotland and the British Isles. Over 100 people packed into the art gallery to hear her, illustrating the power and importance of community to create and support beauty.

She sang with Abner Arias, tenor, and Michael Balerite, baritone. Iorns, Arias and Balerite students in Opera Modesto’s Summer Opera Institute. The concert took place through Modesto Unplugged, an organization focused on supporting live music in Modesto. Their vocal quality and stage presence was only enhanced by the sincerity and earnestness that comes whenever youth commit themselves to a project. Iorns told us of her Scottish grandmother’s homesickness and the day her sons brought  musicians to her home to perform “Danny Boy.” Iorns dedicated that song to her. “You were magnificent,” my daughter told her and I agreed. While we ought to evaluate a performance objectively, it is impossible not to think of these young people, already so accomplished, and how far they’ll go.

I thought back to my brief conversation with the Archbishop as I thanked him for all he does with the Benedict XVI Institute. Humbly, he said,

“We’re just trying to lift the world up with beauty.”

With the darkness, drudgery, isolation and confusion of this world, that sounds like something we all need.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

What’s the big deal about Saint Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick’s Day draws nigh.

Holding a shamrock

The day when those who never considered themselves Irish become so for a day of festivity held throughout the nation. Locally, churches like St. Mary Catholic Church in Oakdale and St. Anthony’s in Hughson will hold Corned Beef and Cabbage dinners while pubs and breweries go out of their way for the “Wearing of the Green.” 

The Downtown Turlock Business Association will hold its second Downtown Turlock Pot of Gold Scavenger Hunt March 17-18, inviting participants to hunt for the 17 listed items, photograph them and post them on Instagram. Each entry becomes a chance to win the pot of gold containing gifts, gift cards and coupons valued at $500.

Why all the hullabaloo over an ancient Catholic saint? 

Saint Patrick lived in the 5th century. His path to Ireland began with pirates kidnapping the young Welshman, selling him as a slave in Ireland, his escape and dream that led him to become a priest and return to Ireland as a missionary and bishop. He is the patron saint of Ireland.

It is easy to find the patron saints of countries. France has at least three. We don’t celebrate those feast days in secular and religious settings like this one. What makes Patrick different? 

The first wave of Irish immigration took place in colonial times. The potato famine in 1845 launched the second wave of immigration. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and half a million arrived in America. The Irish constituted a third of all immigrants from 1820 to 1860. They faced anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiments in the predominantly Protestant United States. Yet the people made America their home and became an influential presence.

“It was the Irish who made the [Catholic] Church grow,”

Michael McCormack, National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American Catholic fraternity, told the Catholic News Agency in a 2021 article by Kevin J. Foley titled “How the Irish built Catholic America”, “By the mid-nineteenth century, Irish clergy had taken the lead in church building to serve the immigrant populations of the industrial cities of the East Coast and the Midwest,” Christopher Shannon, a Christendom College history professor, told CNA in the same article.

“Except for churches founded explicitly by non-Irish groups seeking to maintain their distinct ethnic traditions, every church in the immigrant city was a little Irish.”

The saint, the immigrants, the churches.

It begins with a saint’s festival. Over time, it became a cause for Irish-American pride, a way to band together as citizens of a new country with a shared heritage. As Irish immigrants made homes and lives here in the United States, many kept their connection to their homeland and the people still living there. 

For 800 years, Britain ruled Ireland. In The Irish Story: A Survey of Irish History and Culture author Alice Curtayne illustrates Britain’s to wipe out Irish culture during that time. By immigrating, settling in America and embracing their Irish heritage, Irish Americans and their Saint Patrick’s Day parades emboldened those still in Ireland to demand their freedom from England.

For a country to come out of oppression after eight centuries and still treasure its heritage, promote its heritage and celebrate its heritage is remarkable to me. 

I am a Casey.

Before that, I was a McGuire. “Isn’t that the Scottish spelling?” I asked my father.

“They were probably just Irish pretending to be Scottish because there was so much discrimination against the Irish,” he answered.

All my life I attended the Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner. That made up the bulk of my interaction with Irish culture. But now, as a Casey, with a husband who grew up with more Portuguese traditions than ones that belonged to his heritage, we’re looking for the heritage of our ancestors and embracing the feast and all it stands for, in a religious and secular sense. It’s marvelous when the two sides can come together for a bit of festivity in these early days of spring. 

And the green?

Green is the national color of Ireland. The Irish street ballad called “The Wearing of the Green” decries the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Society of United Irishmen adopted green as its color. Its supporters wore green as a sign of rebellion against British rule. And so wearing the color on Saint Patrick’s Day becomes a way of showing Irish pride or support of Irish independence, or dare I say, support that all people should be free and accorded their God-given rights and dignity, which no one should take from them. 

That sounds like an idea we all can get behind. 

Saint Patrick's Day Parade with young man carrying the Irish flag

Local Events

As mentioned before. You can find Corned Beef and Cabbage and live Celtic Music at St. Mary Catholic Church at 1600 Main Street in Oakdale from 5 to 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be bought at the door. My husband will be the one playing the Irish whistle. At St. Anthony’s in Hughson, the Knights of Columbus will host the Michael Hollenhorst Memorial Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner on March 18 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Saint Patrick Day Cheers

And for you Catholic readers

Saint Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday on Lent this year. Tthose Catholics in the Stockton Diocese will be happy to know our Bishop has issued a dispensation from the obligation to fast from meat. Catholics are still encouraged Catholics to make some alternative penance or Lenten devotion that day.

For a fantastic explainer on what that’s about, check out this article by the Pillar.

For our devotion, our family plans to attend mass that afternoon locally and provide some good ol’ Irish hymns.

To get in the devotional spirit, try

  • “The King of Love my Shepherd is”
  • “Be Thou my Vision”
  • “The Lorica of Saint Patrick”

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always with you.

May the sunshine on your always.

Till we meet again.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

Bethlehem Market Brings in Big Business for Catholic Entrepreneurs

in local church news

The inaugural Bethlehem Market

Bethlehem Market flier

All Saint University Parish hosted the inaugural Bethlehem Market, organized by Leslie Sousa, on December 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Twenty-one vendors registered for the event that featured exclusively Catholic vendors. While some canceled because of rain, those who remained said it was their best market ever.


Vendors sold a variety of goods including baked confections, wood crafts, jewelry, books and textiles.

Savannah Governale, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption, owns Savannah in Stitches, producing high-end knit goods including mittens, scarves, pom hats and even earrings. Governale said “The day was simply amazing. The rain did slow traffic a bit, but the trickle of customers toward the end of the day was similar to what I see at the end of most markets I’ve done.” Governale reporting bringing in double the profit of past markets. “Financially, sales were more than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I was pleasantly shocked. I believe the whole community was excited to support each other and I’m grateful, to say the least!”

Savannah in Stitches
Savannah in Stitches

Mary Our Mother Mission Society attends multiple conferences throughout the state to sell religious articles including icons, books and rosaries. David Moore, who is new to the mission will work primarily at such conferences. He said in the Stockton Diocese he knew of only two events like the Bethlehem Market this season.

Cheyenne Semchuk from CheyDani Crafts has been in business since 2019 when she sold handmade friendship bracelets. In 2020, she changed her line to the Catholic products she sells today. Semchuk operates an Etsy shop but said she finds Etsy more likely to feature or support businesses with “the complete opposite morals as me.” This year she began exploring in-person sales, beginning with her first pop-up at Dutch Hollow Farm’s Fall Festival. Semchuk also sold at the Hughson Arboretum & Gardens Fall Festival, a vendor event at Our Lady of Fatima and The Bethlehem Market.

When parishes host markets, Semchuk said “it allows the local parishioners to support local businesses that share their same beliefs and to help spread our beliefs by inviting friends to the events as well. It’s also a great way to give money to the local parishes or the causes that they are raising money for. I give 10% or more of my profits to nonprofits and this last market’s percentage went toward my local parish’s (St. Joseph’s) food pantry which is making food baskets for families for Christmas.”

According to Semchuk, those ideas came to fruition. “Despite a lot of rain, everything went well!” Foot traffic was steady throughout the market. “I think because we were exclusively Catholic vendors we had a decent amount of people come to solely support us whether it was pouring rain or not and we were all thankful for that.”

Like Governale, Semchuk reported excellent sales. “My sales were the best I’ve ever had at this market.” And this she attributes to the uniquely Catholic atmosphere. “They were my target audience.”

Miraculous Medal earrings and more by Simple Beadings
Miraculous Medal Earrings and more by Simple Beadings

Semchuk also praised the organization and marketing of The Bethlehem Market that made it such a success. That credit goes to Leslie Sousa. Sousa began a social media campaign weeks before the market creating graphics and gift tags emphasizing “Jesus is the Reason” that connect the event to the true meaning of Christmas.

Bethlehem Market a first for Sousa

The market was Sousa’s first experience organizing a vendor event. “I think it went great!” She said, “The community definitely came out to Christmas shop and it was great to see so many people connecting and talking, which was one of my hopes for this event, to bring the community together during Advent.”

Sousa expressed her appreciation for All Saints and the Catholic community in the Turlock area for spreading the word and attending. She identified “having a good church community who supports parish events” as vital to a successful market. Sousa looks forward to bringing The Bethlehem Market back next Advent.

Church News is an independent off-shoot of “Here’s to the Good Life!” a weekly column considering the beauty and challenges of a flourishing life.

Catholic Pop-Up Markets on the Rise

Local Church News

The Rise of the Pop-Up Shop

Visit a town or church festival and you’re likely to shop a bit. In 2020, community events were put on hold. The livelihood of those who relied on selling at those events became uncertain. In 2020, the area saw a rise in stand-alone vendor events, also called pop-up markets. Markets were held on neighbors’ porches, church parking lots, or backyards. Entrepreneurs began to organize events separate from larger institutions.

That move built on an existing trend that Forbes identified as a result from rising real estate and e-commerce. When the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated shutdowns closed so-called non-essential businesses, artists and makers turned more than ever to social media to sell their work. Eventually, groups began organizing informal pop-ups and used social media networks to spread the word.

But with California’s high cost-of-living, more Catholics are building side hustles or sole-proprietorships. This allows them to work flexible hours from home. And many of these business owners are women.

Traditionally, parishes follow the church bazaar model. Parishioners donate or collect items to be sold at the event, with all proceeds benefitting the parish or program itself. The Christmas Fair on November 19 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sonora follows this model. There, visitors will find jewelry, crafts, gift baskets, religious items, Christmas items, and baked goods for sale.

So as vendors are finding and making opportunities to sell their products through pop-up shops, Catholic vendors are asking for ways to get in the game. The opportunities for distinctly Catholic products sold by for-profit companies remained slim.

Catholic Pop-Ups

On July 30, Holy Family Catholic Church in Salida hosted a pop-up event to raise funds for the church’s building project.

In the coming weeks, Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto and All Saints University Parish in Turlock parishes will host pop-up markets.

Our Lady of Fatima’s Vendor Event

Our Lady of Fatima Vendor Fair flier

For two days, Our Lady of Fatima Parish will hold its first Fall Vendor Fair. Over thirty vendors will set at the event hosted by the Modesto #110 Young Ladies Grand Institute, a Catholic women’s organization.

Kathy Paioni first began organizing vendor events with her husband when they began the Salida Town and Country Parade and Festival. After 16 years of chairing the festival, she knew the events were lucrative. Vendors pay a registration fee. Event organizers provide the space and audience. Vendors set their prices and keep their profits. Paioni looked for a way to use this model as a fundraiser for YLI.

At Our Lady of Fatima’s Fall Festival, proceeds will go to different causes. Vendor fees will support the Golden Jubilee Burse for the education of seminarians. Rather than allowing outside food and drink vendors, YLI will hold a bake sale and sell chili with cornbread muffins. Bake sale proceeds will support the YLI Grand Presidents Program for ALS, Lou Gherig Disease. Chili and cornbread profits will go to the Sisters of the Cross, a cloistered convent in Modesto.

The YLI Institute keeps only 15% of its profits. That’s all they need to financially support the work of the small institute, Paioni said. Modesto #110 Young Ladies Grand Institute is associated with Our Lady of Fatima, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Holy Family.

In the past, Paioni organized events like the Vendor Fair at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church but said over the years she finds it increasingly difficult to find parishes who want to host a pop-up style event. She said several locations were unresponsive, dismissive, or asked for space rental fees that significantly reduced the funds YLI could raise. That was not the case at Our Lady of Fatima, led by Fr. Ernesto Madrigal. “They know the good work we’re doing,” Paioni said.

For questions or to sign up contact Kathy Paioni at

The Bethlehem Market

At All Saints University Parish, Leslie Sousa is organizing The Bethlehem Market. The Bethlehem Market is an Advent artisan market focused on drawing Catholic vendors who sell arts and crafts.

Sousa said her vision for “The Bethlehem Market is to bring the community together during a season, Advent, that is supposed to help us draw closer to Jesus.” She laments that Advent “often becomes four weeks where we stress to buy all the gifts we need, decorate our homes, and figure out a family plan for the holidays.” Sousa said she hopes the opportunity to buy religious items for Christmas will help shoppers “remember the real meaning of Advent and Christmas.”

In her marketing, Sousa’s emphasizes the importance of shopping local. She thinks it “makes a big difference to know exactly what our money that we spend on presents will be supporting. Is it going to a big corporation, or is my money supporting another Catholic family and business in the area?”

Follow The Bethlehem Market on Instagram @TheBethlehemMarket. For questions or to sign up, email

Good for Parishes. Good for Businesses

Catholic pop-up markets offer a unique opportunity in non-profit fundraising where organizations are seeing a decline in volunteerism. They support those laypeople, who may not be working traditional day job but have instead opted out of the traditional workforce. Attendees shop local and connect personally with business owners, strengthening the Catholic community as a whole.

Church News is an independent off-shoot of “Here’s to the Good Life!” a weekly column considering the beauty and challenges of a flourishing life.

Lent in Progress

As of this writing, it is the 4th week of Lent.

Last Sunday, Laetare Sunday, marked the halfway point of Lent. There is something about Lent that brings up the many lessons I have learned and reveals the many ways I have to learn them again.

Many will adopt a spiritual program for the season, often using devotional books, personal sacrifices, or additional prayers. My Lent began, unintentionally, with reading “Work in Progress”, a new book by Julia Marie Hogan Werner.

We are Works in Progress

As the title suggests, we are Works in Progress, a concept so simple and so helpful it’s unbelievable. The ideas, Werner presents are meaty, long-accepted and understood concepts in cognitive behavioral therapy. Werner opens with the question “Who Are You?” to introduce the issues often faced in the United States in reaching that elusive stage of adulthood, and having the life we desire, filled with authenticity and purpose. Most of us do not know who we are. We might have a sense of what we value, but all too often the circumstances of life overwhelm us. What we prioritize with our time gets determined either by a disordered sense of who we are or what is happening right now, rather than our values.

But, when our priorities are determined by our values and not just what’s happening right now, and we have a sense of who we are grounded in the truth rather than by the narratives we learned as children, false beliefs or expectations about ourselves, or trauma. Then we can begin to order our lives according to our true dignity and the values we hold. When we do this, our lives begin to take the shape of the life we envision for ourselves, the ones filled with meaning and purpose. And this is the key to happiness.

Stopping, looking and listening

The book has me examining and considering my approach to things of late, which is quite the goal of Lent, as well, to examine one’s conscience, place and progress in the spiritual journey.

According to Werner, there are two paths our thinking can take when we get together with some of the “false friends” Werner identifies: going with the flow and never really feeling in control or trying to control everything (the perfectionist falls into the latter).

And so the usual pattern for many a practitioner of Lenten disciplines is to see, first, the perfectionist in those first two weeks of Lent. Dedicated, focused, zealous in his commitments, he dives wholeheartedly into the process. But then the bite comes on after that time, the pleasure of change diminishes and the work becomes difficult.

Stages of Lent

Photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash

In the third week, many a devotee begins to lag. This starts the opportunity to see one’s weaknesses and be reminded, “It is okay to be weak,” and see that suffering, weakness, and that lack of the strong-man within oneself, as a wake-up in humility, an opportunity to draw on the spiritual resources available during this time, to pray for grace, if you will.

And on comes Laetare Sunday, with the liturgical mandate “Rejoice!” Rejoice at what? There is so much darkness in the world, so many daily struggles, so many personal crises. Yet, the word, “Rejoice!” still sounds.

It means to spur us on. I am reminded of Werner’s book again. The author points out that disordered ways of thinking often stem from beliefs we hold, like lenses through which we perceive and understand our actions and the actions of others. Perfectionism stems from the belief that “I am not enough,” or “Failure is unacceptable.”

Werner offers the response.

There is nothing we can do to add to or diminish our dignity or worth as persons. We cannot earn it because it is inherent in our being. Perfectionism promotes the personal lie that worth must be earned. If we fail, if we are weak, we are not enough.

So Lent continues to work the heart through the stages of change. From the contemplation stage of realizing the things one must work on, we move to the preparation stage of committing oneself to the discipline of change. Then on to the action stage of carrying out one’s commitment, and finally, to the maintenance stage of keeping the work going. The stages are cyclical. We will fall back and need to realize these lessons once again.

Thus the strength of these six weeks, these forty days, to remind us and aid us in our understanding that, as Werner says, we are Works in Progress.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Build Your Community

From Merriam-Webster:

“Community is a unified body of individuals: such as the people with common interests living in a particular area, a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society, a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.”

As a youth, I did the now-unthinkable thing of riding my bike up and down our country road, knocking on neighbors’ doors and spending time with them. So when my father needed something for his farm or neighbors’ needed something for their farm and he talked about farmers helping farmers, I understood what he meant. They were not strangers to me.

As a young adult, I served a year of missionary work with NET Ministries and traveled the country with a team of five men and five other women. We lived together, ate together, and worked together. There was support and effort made to maintain a positive relationships. Some relationships become deep and lasting. Others passed and that season of relationship has ended.

I moved to Minnesota to return to the opportunity to live in that kind of community of women through St. Paul’s Outreach, living together, eating together, praying together, with a shared faith. For a year, I lived in that household. The following year, I found a roommate, and we rented a house, sharing faith but also aesthetics, a Christmas tree, stories about the boyfriends we would go on to marry, and our vision of what life could or should be like as we moved forward to those new stages of marriage.

To the east coast and back, my husband and I traveled after marrying. We returned to California. My parent’s friend owned the first home we rented on the west coast.

We moved again, with the support of my parents. And again. And again. Each time, with gratitude we soaked up the wonder of amazing neighbors when we faced times of crisis.

After ten years, for the first time, it feels like we have found not just friends or neighbors, but community, two, in fact.

One came through the nature of this town. I interviewed a business owner, who told me she had just been on the phone with my husband to set up music lessons, whose husband did electrical work for us when we moved. The next week, I attended a play, directed by the man who, along with his wife and twenty other people, helped us move in because we called a local church to ask for help. Each time I come to town to share the stories of the people who live here, I meet people who read this column, or have known my parents for decades, or I’ve known through a Facebook moms’ group for years, or people I knew as kids running around the hall at a church dinner.

The other community comes from our parish. A group of homeschooling families, seeking a way to connect our children, looking for educational and social opportunities. We see each other weekly, visit after mass, and throughout the summer interact at co-op opportunities.

It comes with age. Moving past the desire to be best friends. Understanding friendships evolve and change. Understanding that no relationship can feed every need. If they serve a few facets, then it’s a boon.

If you’re suffering from a lack of community, consider this.

It takes visibility to form community.

People need to see your face. Put yourself out there. Find groups with common interests, whether volunteering at the Carnegie Art Center, Historical Society, or Lions Club. Or find subgroups or committees at work. Or find the local playdates or co-ops or library storytime.

It takes stability to form a community.

Make your attendance consistent and give it an important spot in your calendar.

It takes intentionality to form a community.

We live in a transitory world, show you’re invested where you’re at. Talk to people. Take an interest. Ask questions.

It is possible, even as people leave and the world keeps rushing around us. It takes time. It takes patience. And a little bit of trust that the people are out there until finally, we build a community.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Lenten Literary Book Club

Do you buy Lenten devotionals but find the process of following them too dry, too big, too small, or too boring?

Do you want to enliven your Lent with holy and literary thoughts?

Do you look into your soul and find a whole bunch of fiction?

If you answered yes, then this is the book club for you!

Several years ago, an acquaintance nearby started a book club and some literature-loving friends invited me along for the ride. We’ve continued to meet monthly, excepting holiday months, and moved from long form novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Kristin Lavarnsdatter to short stories and novellas.

The format works, and I want to bring it into the Lenten sphere with a handful of works that can deepen our hearts and minds and help us reflect on the things that matter most.

Lent begins March 2 on Ash Wednesday.

It ends April 14 on Holy Thursday.

Here’s the plan.

  • You read along.
  • I’ll write some thoughts.
  • You comment on the post with your thoughts on the website or Facebook and we can all respond to each other.
  • If you want keep thoughts to yourself, that works!
  • If you want to discuss it with other friends in real life rather than online, that works!
  • The field is open, so let’s have some fun and think some thoughts.

To participate, read these works by these days:

March 9

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


            Find it in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

March 16

The Enduring Chill by Flannery O’Connor

Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories (FSG Classics): O'Connor,  Flannery, Fitzgerald, Robert: 9780374504649: Books

            Find it in Everything that Rises Must Converge in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

March 23

The Gifts of the Christ Child by George Macdonald

            Find it in print at Cluny Media or read the text online.

March 30

The Death of Ivan Illych by Leo Tolstoy

The Death Of Ivan Ilyich - (bantam Classics) By Leo Tolstoy (paperback) :  Target

            Find it in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

April 6

Death be not Proud by John Donne

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Read the text online or find it in many poetry anthologies

April 13

The Last Supper Discourses

TintorettoLast Supper, 1592–94, showing the Communion of the Apostles

Gospel of John, Chapter 14-17, read it in your own bible or online.

Naturally, you can find all these works on Amazon as well, but if you are not already familiar with Book Shop, it’s a great website that work to support small, local bookshops.

Now, the questions for each reading

  • How does the main character or characters encounter the transcendent or divine?
  • What is their reaction to it?

Except for the April 13 reading

  • In Holy Week we are invited to encounter the Crucified Christ. In this encounter, he comes into our story.
  • On top of considering others’ reactions to Christ, what is your response to the Last Supper Discourses?
  • How does it move you?
  • The best stories show rather than tell. Does it move you to action beyond reflection?

Each week I’ll post a reflection here and on Facebook and we’ll take it from there! Comment below or send me a message if you plan to join in!

It’s Advent! What do you have to wait for?

The season begins with its rich sounds, smells, flavors and traditions. Now comes the change, with stores and social media working overtime to sell us on the holiday spirit. Now comes the new flavor of excitement for children. Christmas excitement. Winter break excitement. The excitement of getting and hopefully, at least a little, the excitement of giving. Now comes the overloaded schedules, the to-do lists, the decades of collected recipes that make the familiar holiday meal what it is.

With the passing of Thanksgiving, we begin a season of anticipation and preparation. The almost-here but the not-quite-yet season.

And we call it Advent.

The word “Advent” means arrival or appearance. It is a season of waiting. They told me as a child, “it’s good for you to wait. Patience is a virtue.”

On the farm, expectation comes with the territory. Our little one-acre plot has flowers at one end. I plant the seed, wait for it to sprout, transplant and nurture the little seedling into full growth. What I did not know until this year is that it can take a full 25 days from when I first spied the dahlia bud for it to bloom. We wait.

At the other end of the farm are the birds. My husband came home in spring with a chirping cardboard box nestling five little chicken chicks and two turkey chicks. The turkeys grew and grew, waddling this way and that. The children introduce the turkeys to all our friends. This one is called “Thanksgiving” and this one is called “Christmas” indicating the holiday on which we would thank the Lord for their life and our bounty. Only the female remains now. The male, in its 39.2 lb glory met its Thanksgiving fate. We waited.

Three years ago we first parked our car beside this house and fell in love with its decorative trim and many buildings. We moved in three months later and got to work. A project here, a project there, some requiring expert assistance, others in the DIY realm. There are so many dreams and ideas, but we can tackle them just one at a time with minimal overlap. So we wait.

The expectant mother.

The parent at their child’s hospital bedside.

The quarantined relative.

We wait.

How full of waiting life is. How many times do we look ahead, full of excitement or full of dread, and allow that anticipation to rob us of the moment in front of us right now? Or how caught up we can be in the moment that we forget to wait at all. We grow anxious, impatient, and want it not now. Or we forget to look ahead at all. The big moments of life come and go, but our hearts are not stirred like they might have been. We did not wait. We merely went with the flow, unaffected, caught in the current.

Life is meant to be a gentle balance of attention to the present moment of anticipation, that is, hope, in what is to come. We wait well when we grow a little when we take a deep breath and stay calm. We wait well when we look ahead and allow ourselves the excitement that children live by.

But what have we to wait for?

What is Christmas but so much sadness when the ones you love are in the grave or far away or relationships are fractured and traditions reevaluated in light of so many changes?

Even if you have lost something this year or last year or the year before that, even if you are broken in heart and spirit, there is something worth waiting for. It may be the small, quiet moment of joy. It may be kindness from a stranger or the thoughtfulness of an old friend. It may be the cheerfulness of others less worn down by the storms of life. It might be the unadulterated happiness of a child. It might be heaven. It might be resurrection, coming to life again, a time when things will be healed and made new. It might be the gift that you are to others. It might be the friend you haven’t yet met, the conversation you haven’t yet had, the reconciliation you never thought would happen, the forgiveness you are not ready to give.

There is something worth waiting for.

And so we wait.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

In Silence This Advent

Quietly, I sneak out of bed in the dark hearing the drops of rain pitter upon our rooftop and the slosh of puddles divided by passing cars. It is five in the morning. Yesterday I told myself perhaps I would have to wake this early to find that elusive state I dreamt of, the one so key to a season like Advent: silence.

Quietly, I gather my laptop and phone and latch the door that separates the living spaces from the sleeping spaces, tightening my jaw in the prayer that the eager kitten outside does not begin meowing at the first sign of light from our living room lamps. In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree. The soft glow of blue lights from our blue and silver Christmas tree decorations illuminates the room of comfy furniture and scattered books. Softly, I settle by the lamp that will give enough light to see and work.

All is quiet.


I sit down, laptop in hand, and open the day’s doings. It feels good to reconnect with work, with the calendar, with the to-do list after a week of family-focused hustle and holiday fare. It was a glorious holiday filled with a delicious menu, efficient planning, friends and new acquaintances. It was a time to stop pushing, stop worrying, and just be with the family, letting the pruned branches lay where they will as the water and mud expanded the earth of our backyard.

I catch my breath as I hear a stirring in the hallway. The moments are short; I must make the most of them.

Emily P. Freeman emailed her seasonal “What I Learned This…” feature for Fall.

What did I learn?

I learned my limitations. I learned how to work within my limitations. And then I learned my limitations again.

As Thanksgiving transitioned all too quickly to Advent, I am faced with the well-known reality that grief creeps up where it wills. Turning away will not help, we must face it, lean into it, and discover what there is here, what task of grief must be addressed this season, in order to find any peace. The horizons expand. I pen a presentation for St. Mary’s in Oakdale. In a Brooklinen tote, I gather my Advent resources. One should do it and yet I have five.

Resting at midday on the couch on Sunday, I comb through each one, looking for a connection, hoping for some justification for their numerous quantity. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, with most of the shopping done, I want to seek hope; I want to seek silence.

Christmas trees branches in darkness
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Perhaps I can commit to a little each day: a little reflection, a little reading, a little quiet.

I say to my children on the way to mass, “you want me to be a good mother right? To be a good mother I must be able to be quiet and pray.” My oldest is nine and still, I have not learned this lesson.

A resource by writer Sarah Damm

encourages me to reflect on my goals and priorities this season leading up to Christmas. What is most important to me? What do I hope to gain spiritually? What traditions bear repeating within my family?

And let go of the rest.

She offers a list.

Cards. I do not really want to write these, send them. A stack of thank-you cards sit on my desk from a month ago, penned by a nine and seven-year-old. They are still here only because I have failed to look up the addresses.

Yes, let’s forget about cards this year.

When we give ourselves permission to let go of it all, we find there are those things we want to hold onto. But instead of burying them in a pile of obligations, we can anticipate them, then savor them, then reflect on them as good things we did.

What are your goals these weeks leading up to Christmas?

What is it time to let go of, without guilt or regret, because it only robs the family of peace (even if Pinterest, family history, and the blogosphere tell you not to)?

What does your heart ache to see again, hold and rest in?

Let the rain and chill outside slow you down. Let the store ads sit neglected. Look to your heart and the hearts of those around you….and decide, in a moment silence, what to do this Advent.

Photo by Zoran Kokanovic on Unsplash

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

Saints and Heroes – A review of Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty

Is Dorothy Day a saint?

Cover of Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of my Grandmother by Kate Hennessy

Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of my Grandmother” is the story of an influential woman told by her granddaughter. Kate Hennessey explores not only the biographical details but considers the controversy over how Day is presented historically to the public, the push for canonization (naming her a saint in the Catholic Church) and the complex relationship between Day and her daughter, Tamar Hennessey, the author’s mother. Hennessey paints a portrait no other author can, that of exploring the depths of this remarkable woman, seeking to discover her for who she is, beyond the black-and-white claims of the left or the right.

On the surface, Day was a journalist, a columnist, a social justice advocate, a founder of a publication called the “Catholic Worker” so named to stand in contrast from the Communist publication the “Daily Worker,” and founder of houses of hospitality and worker farms in which no souls seeking shelter were turned away. She was a Catholic convert with a past to rival St. Augustine of Hippo, the first of our spiritual memoirists. 

Many want Day declared a saint.

Others object. Hennessey, with an eye on the person of Day, is willing to look at her as a human being filled with good motivations and good work, some mistaken ideas, a clear vision and the energy to put it into place. 

The author does this with deft and skill at the written word, following in her grandmother’s footsteps. She offers details usually left out of such works such as the operas listened to or musicals watched on television, the type of drinks consumed, the variety of shells collected. These details paint the scene for the reader, drawing out the sense of time, place and personalities engaged at these moments in Day’s life. 

The book opens with a question of how far back one must go in order to begin to understand Day. One must go very far back, it turns out, to her family of origin.

Hennessey’s perspective of a searching granddaughter never wavers. She writes openly of peppering her mother with questions of their past, and as the book draws to a close, shows clearly those moments at the kitchen table when the conversations must needs also come to a close, there was nothing more to say.

Saint-social-justice-warrior or radically-minded failure?

Hennessey offers the evidence and leaves the reader with the lesson we all must learn, most of our heroes succeed in some areas and failed in others, but that does not diminish their heroic status. 

Like many a student in California, I learned the virtues of Martin Luther King Jr. And the vices of Christopher Columbus. 

In graduate school, I was stunned to learn of the instances of plagiarism in MLK’s life and his failure in faithfulness to his wife. 

During a radio program exploring Columbus’ legacy and diaries, I got a glimpse of the nuances in his life indicating there might be more to the story, more villains and more innocence, good but period-influenced intentions. 

What does it mean? 

There are heroes and there are saints and the two paths might not always cross. A saint, recognized by the Catholic Church is someone who achieved an extraordinary degree of holiness, conformity with the will of God, during his or her life. 

A hero, in contrast, is someone with a remarkable skill or ability needed in a particular time and place, who moved forward history in some significant way. It says little about the rest of his or her life. Just because one person sees the vision of a more perfect union or has a dream where children of any color can play together, does not mean that person was perfect. Few of us are. 

We want our heroes to be immaculate and without sin, and so the temptation, especially in this modern name-changing, statue-removing times is to erase their presence in history. We want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, an archaic saying meaning to accidentally throw out the good when we try to discard the bad. 

A better way is to approach, as Hennessy did, is the exploration of a person’s life in search of understanding, to praise the good, acknowledge the bad, and know that we can love the sinner who may never be a saint. 

I hope we all can aim for a virtuous and moral life. I wish we all might seek the good and desire to find a way towards goodness and improvement. But I also understand that human weakness runs deep, the temptation is strong and just as we grow up to see our parents’ in a fuller light, more than just mom and dad, but people with flaws, good intentions and great failings, we can see our heroes similarly. 

They can still be heroes. 

And so can we.