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Sharing the spirit of St. Francis with the world VOL. 128/NO. 10 • MAY 2021 • PUBLISHED BY FRANCISCAN MEDIA


Our Nighttime Blessing PAGE 24


MAY 2021 • $4.99 StAnthonyMessenger.org


Virtual learning due to Covid-19 has been a challenge for educators and parents everywhere this past year.

This is especially true in our rural Jamaican missions, with over 50% of school children in the country unable to access the internet or a device from home. Two Franciscan friars, Cornerstone Jamaica, and a lot of caring benefactors have been able to get these kids back to a daily school routine. Visit StAnthony.com/Bokspots to learn how you can be part of helping these children thrive.

The Franciscan Friars, Province of St. John the Baptist • 1615 Vine St., Ste 1 • Cincinnati, OH 45202-6492 StAnthony.org • Franciscan.org • 513-721-4700, ext. 3219

VOL. 128 N O. 1 0


2021 20/21

26 26 A Catholic Response to the Mental Health Crisis


By Daniel Imwalle

Behind the statistics, facts, and figures on our nation’s mental health crisis are human beings—all children of God. How the Church and we, as people of faith, respond can save lives and help get people who are suffering the help they need.

18 Scenes from the Life of Mary By Murray Bodo, OFM

As Mary grew older, what would she have thought about her role in the story of our faith tradition? A Franciscan writer imagines just that.


24 Our Nighttime Blessing By Bond Strong

A loving, nightly ritual with her young son teaches a mom more than she expected.

32 Five Ways to Pray with Your Body By Shannon K. Evans

Integrating our spiritual and physical selves can lead to a richer prayer experience.

36 Models of Motherly Love

Artwork by Karen Schmidt; story by Susan Hines-Brigger

Through her sculptures, this artist celebrates the beauty of maternal love.



An article by Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, about how the faith lives of Catholics in the fi lm industry inform their work

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 1

Saint Day


he saints were real people with real stories—just like us! Their surrender to God’s love was so gen-

erous that the Church recognizes them as heroes and

of the

heroines worthy of being held up for our inspiration. Join Franciscan Media in our daily celebration of these holy men and women of God. Sign up for Saint of the Day, a free resource delivered right to your inbox.

ST. MARGARET OF CORTONA May 16 Having run away from her stepmother after her mother’s death, Margaret of Cortona lived with a man and bore him a son. When her lover was murdered, St. Margaret had a change of heart, became a penitent, and founded a religious community.

ST. CRISTÓBAL MAGALLANES AND COMPANIONS May 21 St. Cristóbal Magallanes and Companions—21 diocesan priests and three laymen—belonged to the Cristero movement during the 20th-century persecution of the Church in Mexico. Martyred in eight Mexican states, they were beatified and canonized together.



May 26 May 24 After his student days, St. St. Mary Magdalene de’ Philip Neri lived as a layPazzi is known as the “ecman engaged in prayer and static saint” because of her apostolic works in Rome. unusual gifts from God. To He attracted many to join safeguard the authenticity him—poor and rich. After of her visions, her confesordination, he became a sor had her dictate them to noted confessor and evenfellow sisters. The result was tually founded the Oratory, five volumes encompassing a religious institute, with ecstasies, letters, and inspi- some of his followers. rational sayings.







Saint Day

of the

Visit Our Website


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Saints featured in the month of May include . . .

VOL. 128 N O. 1 0

“At all times and seasons, in every country and place, every day and all day, we must have a true and humble faith.”




—St. Francis of Assisi

12 SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCIS 10 Ask a Franciscan

Facing Up to Systemic Racism


15 Editorial | Christopher Heffron ‘May God Give You Peace’

12 Followers of St. Francis

16 At Home on Earth | Kyle Kramer

14 Franciscan World

44 Faith & Family | Susan Hines-Brigger

Sister Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR

Meeting the Challenge of This Moment

School Sisters of St. Francis

A Life Adrift

14 St. Anthony Stories

A Parking Lot Intercession


40 Media Reviews

Podcast | Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church Streaming | The Minimalists: Less Is Now

42 Film Reviews

Lady of Guadalupe A Week Away Roe v. Wade


ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 4 Dear Reader 5 Your Voice 6 Church in the News

45 Pete & Repeat 46 Let Us Pray 48 Reflection

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 3

dear reader The Ultimate Storyteller



here are certain books you read that stick with you. It might be the subject matter, the time of your life when you read it, or the way that the story was told. The last reason is what captured me when I first read the book Francis: The Journey and the Dream by Murray Bodo, OFM. In my 26-plus years of working for Franciscan Media, I have learned quite a lot about St. Francis. But never have I felt as close to him as I did when reading that book. It is not a straight historical book but rather a beautiful retelling of Francis’ life through the saint’s own eyes. In this month’s issue, Bodo recreates that magic. In the article “Scenes from the Life of Mary,” he tells the story of the later years of Mary’s life from her own perspective. The article is taken from his new book, Nourishing Love: A Franciscan Celebration of Mary, from Franciscan Media. We also honor the maternal spirit in the photo story “Models of Motherly Love” on page 36, featuring the beautiful sculptures of artist Karen Schmidt. This month, as we celebrate mothers everywhere, let us always remember to turn to our holy mother Mary, the ultimate example of motherly love.

Daniel Kroger, OFM PRESIDENT


Christopher Heffron Susan Hines-Brigger



Mary Catherine Kozusko MANAGING EDITOR

Daniel Imwalle


Sandy Howison


Susan Hines-Brigger, Executive Editor

Sharon Lape


Ray Taylor


Kingery Printing Co. Effingham, IL

WRITER A Catholic Response to the Mental Health Crisis PAGE 26

In addition to writing, which is featured in his article on page 26, Daniel serves as the managing editor of this magazine. He also manages Franciscan Media’s new daily prayer resource, Pause+Pray. When he isn’t busy catching stray commas, Daniel is probably watching college basketball or writing and playing music.



SCULPTOR ARTIST Models of Motherly Love

WRITER Our Nighttime Blessing



Born in Los Angeles, sculptor Karen Schmidt studied fine art and education at California State University Fullerton and earned degrees in both disciplines. Much of the imagery in her work is derived from the biblical narrative, which points to specific moments throughout the biblical story and encompasses greater truths that speak to the human condition. You can see her work at KarenSchmidtSculpture. com.

4 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

Bond Strong lives in the mountains of southwest Virginia with her husband, Reece, and two sons, Willis and Harmon. Although most of her work consists of changing diapers and preparing snacks for her children, she has written for several online platforms including FemCatholic and Blessed Is She. She’s a member of the Spoken Women community and a regular contributor to their blog.

To subscribe, write to the above address or call 866-543-6870. Yearly subscription price: $39.00 in the United States; $69.00 in Canada and other countries. Single copy price: $4.99. For change of address, four weeks’ notice is necessary. See FranciscanMedia.org/subscriptionservices for information on your digital edition. Writer’s guidelines can be found at FranciscanMedia.org/ writers-guide. The publishers are not responsible for manuscripts or photos lost or damaged in transit. Names in fiction do not refer to living or dead persons. Member of the Catholic Press Association Published with ecclesiastical approval Copyright ©2021. All rights reserved.




ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER (ISSN #0036276X) (U.S.P.S. PUBLICATION #007956 CANADA PUBLICATION #PM40036350) Volume 128, Number 10, is published 10 times per year for $39.00 a year by the Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-6498. Phone 513-241-5615. Periodicals postage paid at Cincinnati, Ohio, and additional entry offices. US POSTMASTER: Send address changes to: St. Anthony Messenger, PO Box 189, Congers, NY 10920-0189. CANADA RETURN ADDRESS: c/o AIM, 7289 Torbram Rd., Mississauga, ON, Canada L4T 1G8.

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POINTSOFVIEW | YOUR VOICE Protecting the Persecuted

I’m writing in regard to the numerous news stories I’ve read about the Church and its treatment of LGBTQ individuals. I’ve worked as a mental health counselor at a college counseling center for the past 10 years. My thousands of hours listening to students have given me ample opportunity to reflect on the meaning and practice of love. When it comes to love and longing in the LGBTQ community, I’ll be honest: I didn’t get it. But I believe that God has been opening my mind and my heart to the plight of many among us. Through my work, I’ve witnessed the deep sorrow of these beautiful young souls. I’ve felt the pleading for acceptance on a visceral level. They have a primal human desire to be included, to contribute. It is in our DNA. How many of us have turned a blind eye to this community—out of complacency, fear, or the internalization of discriminatory messages? Our duty as Christians is to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. We, the Church, must be more clear about the Church’s stance on homosexuality. The Catechism says: “Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Here’s the thing: It is simply not talked about enough. We must yell it from the rooftops. We believers have a spiritual obligation to defend our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Feedback from Our Online Readers

On “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Moving Mountains with Canned Goods,” by Katie Rutter Thank you for such a wonderful report! As past president of St. Vincent de Paul in the Archdiocese of Miami, Florida, I wish to thank you for writing such a phenomenal article on behalf of the services we render. God bless you always!—Matia As a volunteer in the St. Vincent de Paul Society conference at the Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, Michigan, I really appreciate what was presented and the way it was presented, regarding how Vincentians serve the needy in our communities.—Fran It’s a blessing to be a volunteer. Everyone who walks in our door is an opportunity to share Jesus’ love and humility. I began as someone who walked in the door, and now I love giving back!—Michelle

I always enjoy receiving St. Anthony Messenger, both print and digital. The articles are always so interesting and timely. Thank you for this wonderful publication! Peace and all good, and I hope all had a blessed Lent! Sister M. Marcella Louise Wallowicz, CSFN, PhD Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Truth Rarely Comfortable

With reference to Mr. Schaefer’s letter in Your Voice in the March issue regarding Sister Simone Campbell (“Nun Not a Uniter”), I would like to say that neither would Jesus have been considered a political unifier. Truth is seldom comfortable to everyone on either the left or the right, but it does build bridges. Lois Anderson, Burlington, Kentucky

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On “Faith & Frescoes: Celebrating Holy Women through Art,” story by Patti Normile; photography by Paula Laudenbach

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On the March Let Us Pray column, “My Mother’s Voice,” by Deacon Art Miller Powerful and uplifting! Eye-opening. Truth. Inspiring, beautiful faith. I was born in 1958, so this is meaningful. Your mother’s voice, like my mother’s voice, reflects God’s heart. Thanks for sharing.—Kevin Racism hasn’t dissipated; it may have gone a little quieter for a while, but it’s never gone. If anyone believes that the disproportionate numbers of people of color incarcerated, living in poverty, attending poorly performing schools, and put to death by the state are a result of anything other than ongoing systemic racism, they are living in a fantasy. Thank you for the beautiful story and lessons in this piece.—Lisa

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church IN THE NEWS

people | events | trends


By Susan Hines-Brigger



6 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org


he Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, according to a controversial statement released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March. The statement also points out, however, that homosexual men and women must be respected, reported Vatican News. According to an official commentary accompanying the statement, it came as a response to a question from priests and lay faithful “who require clarification and guidance concerning a controversial issue.” The response to the question of “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” was “Negative.” “It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage—i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life—as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the doctrinal office said in the explanatory note. Pope Francis approved both the statement and the note for publication. The congregation pointed out, however, that “the Christian community and its pastors are called to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations and will know how to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim to them the Gospel in its fullness,” the explanatory note said. The statement prompted negative reactions from many different parishes and groups, including more than 230 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and other countries where German is spoken. The theologians stated that “we are resolutely distancing ourselves from this position. In contrast, we assume that the life and love of same-sex couples are worth no less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”



group of Catholic scholars, as well as the chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have said they believe it is morally acceptable for anyone to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States, reported Catholic News Service (CNS). In the March 5 statement, the eight scholars said, “Catholics, and indeed, all persons of goodwill who embrace a culture of life for the whole human family, born and unborn, can use these vaccines without fear of moral culpability” for abortion. The statement was released through the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, released a video addressing questions about the vaccines. In it, he reaffirmed the Vatican statement that “has made clear that all the COVID vaccines recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience.” The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said that, due to the situation of the ongoing pandemic, “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.” Bishop Rhoades also referred to a statement he and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made, stating that if a choice of vaccines is available, “we recommend that you pick one with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines.” “Pfizer and Moderna’s connection is more remote than that of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” he said in the video.


During his March trip to Iraq, Pope Francis met with the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the influential leader of Shiite Muslims. The pope thanked the ayatollah for standing with the vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and hardships experienced by many in the country.




raveling outside Vatican City for the first time in 15 months, Pope Francis made the first ever papal visit to Iraq March 5–8. During the trip, the pope met with government and religious leaders during stops in six cities and sites in the north and south of the country, reported CNS. Upon his arrival, the pope was greeted by Iraqi president Barham Salih, who expressed his gratitude that the pope made the trip, “despite recommendations to postpone the visit” because of the pandemic and sporadic waves of violence in the area. Salih said that facing those dangers and visiting anyway, “in reality, doubles the value of your visit in the eyes of Iraqis.” Later that day, the pope went to meet with bishops, clergy, and religious at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. In 2010, 48 worshippers—including women, children, and two young priests—were killed in a terrorist attack at the Syro-Catholic cathedral. He encouraged those in attendance to stay present to their people in order to ensure that Iraq’s Catholic community, “though small like a mustard seed, continues to enrich the life of society as a whole.” Pope Francis started the second day of his journey with a visit to the residence of the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the influential leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq. The two leaders held a 45-minute private meeting where, according to a press release from the Vatican, “the Holy Father stressed the importance of cooperation and friendship between religious communities for contributing—through the cultivation of mutual respect and dialogue—to the good of Iraq, the region, and the entire human family.” The pope also thanked the ayatollah “for speaking up— together with the Shiite community—in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great

hardships of recent years, and for affirming the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.” Following the meeting, the pope traveled to Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, for an interreligious gathering. The site is considered to be the birthplace of the three major religions—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Pope Francis told the representatives attending the gathering: “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism, and violence are not born of a religious heart: They are betrayals of religion.” On the third day, the pope traveled to Mosul, where he heard from Muslims and Christians about the brutality they faced under the terror of the Islamic State. The pope told them, “Fraternity is more durable than fratricide, hope is more powerful than hatred, [and] peace [is] more powerful than war.” Later that evening, he celebrated Mass for some 10,000 people in the stadium of Erbil. He told those in attendance that Iraq would always remain in his heart. “I pray that the members of the various religious communities, together with all men and women of goodwill, may work together to forge bonds of fraternity and solidarity in the service of the good and of peace,” he said. On the return flight to Rome, the pope told reporters that the Catholic Church’s commitment to dialogue with other Churches and with other religions flows from the Gospel, even if some people disagree. “Often,” he said, “you must take a risk.” “The rule of Jesus is love and charity,” the pope said. “But how many centuries did it take us to put that into practice?” StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 7

church IN THE NEWS

people | events | trends



Military chaplain Father Emil Kapaun served in World War II and the Korean War.


ays after the March 16 shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian American women, Catholic leaders throughout the country called for an end to a growing wave of anti-Asian racism and violence, reported CNS. Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer issued a statement calling for Christians to protect the whole community, speaking up against aggression, and actively pursuing an end to “racism and discrimination of every kind.” Two Jesuit universities—St. Louis University and Georgetown University—held vigils online that also included discussion on challenges faced by the Asian American/Pacific Islander community and ways to better advocate for them. AAPI Hate, an advocacy group that tracks hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said it had received about 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020, up from its usual total of 100 incidents a year.

8 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org






his past March, the leadership of six Franciscan provinces added their support to a statement that condemns bullying and other acts of violence toward LGBTQ youth. A press release noted that the statement is “in accordance with the Catholic-Franciscan tradition, which recognizes and celebrates the God-given dignity of every human being.” The statement was first signed in January by 10 US Catholic bishops, along with dozens of religious orders and institutions in support of the Tyler Clementi Foundation in its vital work of standing up for LGBTQ youth, who are vulnerable to and experience high rates of bullying, harassment, violence, and suicide.

his past March, the remains of Father Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain during World War II and the Korean War, were identified by the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), a government forensics team. The priest of the Diocese of Wichita died in a Chinese prisoner-of-war camp during the Korean War. Upon hearing the news, Wichita Bishop Carl A. Kemme said, “It was a joyful and exciting surprise for the Diocese of Wichita that Father Kapaun’s mortal remains were recovered after so many years, and we continue to look forward to his process of canonization in the future.” The government agency concluded that Father Kapaun was among the unidentified soldiers buried in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. As part of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, Kapaun’s remains were among the 1,868 that were returned to US custody, but were not able to be identified. According to a press release from the DPAA, on November 2, 1950, Father Kapaun’s unit came under heavy fire from Chinese forces and received orders to withdraw. Approximately a quarter of the unit’s soldiers made their way back to friendly lines. The others, including many wounded soldiers, became trapped. Father Kapaun volunteered to stay with the wounded and was soon captured and taken to a Chinese-run prison camp. Even after becoming gravely ill, Father Kapaun continued to serve as a spiritual leader for his fellow prisoners, encouraging them to faithfully await their release and regularly defying his captors to bolster the collective morale of the POWs. Due to prolonged malnutrition, he died on May 23, 1951, after which the other POWs buried him in one of the camp’s cemeteries. Father Kapaun was declared a Servant of God, the first stage toward possible canonization, by St. John Paul II in 1993. In 2013, the priest posthumously received the Medal of Honor—the United States’ highest military honor—for his heroic actions on the battlefield.




The national shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton recently received artifacts from the saint’s life.

IN CELEBRATION of the 200th anniversary of the death of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the national shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland, has received several rarely seen artifacts from the saint’s life to put on display. The items, which include St. Elizabeth Ann’s iconic black bonnet, rosary, wedding brooch, and her daughter’s christening gown, were donated by the Sisters of Charity of New York. More details about the artifacts and the celebration, as well as a short film on the saint, are available at Seton200years.org.

Ireland’s Shrine of Knock is now an International Shrine of Eucharistic and Marian Devotion.

In 1838, 272 enslaved persons were sold to a plantation by the Jesuits of Georgetown University.

Pope Francis announced that the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland has been elevated to the status of an International Shrine of Eucharistic and Marian Devotion. The apparition in Knock occurred on August 21, 1879. According to witnesses, Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of the Knock parish church.

basket dating from around 10,500 years ago, the oldest intact in the world.

ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGISTS recently discovered fragments of a 1,900-yearold biblical scroll containing verses written in Greek—with the name of God appearing in Hebrew—from the A YOUNG FRANCISCAN friar was shot on books of Zechariah and Nahum, which March 14 at the Basilica of Our Lady of are part of the Book of the Twelve Zapopan, one of Mexico’s most popu- Minor Prophets. The fragments form part of a scroll that experts believe lar pilgrimage sites, reported CNS. A man who had been causing a scene at belonged to Jewish rebels, led by Simon the basilica shot the friar in the back. Bar Kokhba, who hid in the caves after He was hospitalized but was expected a failed revolt against Roman rule to recover. A suspect was arrested, but between AD 132 and 136. In addition to the scroll, they also no motive for the attack was given. unearthed a cache of rare coins from the same period, a 6,000-year-old ON MARCH 19, the feast of St. Joseph, skeleton of a child, and a large woven

THE JESUIT ORDER announced in March that it will raise $100 million for descendants of enslaved people once owned and sold by their order as a way to make reparations and help the nation move toward racial healing. The funds will be placed in a new partnership called Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation, formed by the Jesuit order and the GU272 Descendants Association—named after the 272 enslaved men, women, and children who were sold by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to plantation owners in Louisiana in 1838. In a news release announcing the partnership, Jesuit Father Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, said: “Racism will endure in America if we continue to turn our heads away from the truth of the past and how it affects us all today. The lasting effects of slavery call each of us to do the work of truth and reconciliation.” StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 9


Pat McCloskey, OFM

Father Pat welcomes your questions! ONLINE: StAnthonyMessenger.org E-MAIL: Ask@FranciscanMedia.org


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WE HAVE A DIGITAL archive of past Q & As.

What do I tell the students in my CCD class when they ask me what the Catholic Church says about systemic racism? As a white woman, I am considered by some people to be privileged. I raised two boys by myself and had to work for everything we had. What about the unborn babies who are being killed every day?


ystemic racism slips under the radar of people who also often pride themselves as being very realistic and practical. They also frequently tell themselves and others, “Well, that’s just the way life is.” These same people usually benefit from a racism they refuse to acknowledge. I cannot defend every action taken by people opposing systemic racism, but neither can I deny that systemic racism exists. All of us need to keep telling ourselves the truth at deeper and deeper levels, far from the level that protects my feelings from any challenge. In one way or another, every sin begins with a lie that a person tells himself/herself—or that a group tells itself. The best way to reject blatant or subtle racism is to keep telling ourselves the truth. For Christians, that means the truth as we know it as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. So, what should you tell your CCD class? Admit that the Catholic Church has not always named and opposed systemic racism as it should have. Jesus does not accept everything that we would like to call normal. The change will need to be on everyone’s part. The killing of unborn babies is an international disgrace, but that does not cancel the need to name and oppose systemic racism.

To get started, go to StAnthonyMessenger.org.

Seeking the Purpose of My Life

Material is grouped thematically under headings such as forgiveness, Jesus, moral issues, prayer, saints, redemption, sacraments, Scripture—and many more!


In the “winter” of my life, I look back and see basically an upward struggle to survive, especially as compared to giants of our faith such as Thomas à Kempis, William Carey, and the Apostle Paul. What has been the purpose of my life? Why was I ever born? What is the purpose of life for an average person such as myself?

he Baltimore Catechism opened with the question “Who made you?” and followed it with “Why did God make you?” It answered the first question with “God” and the second one

10 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org


All questions sent by mail need to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Facing Up to Systemic Racism


MAIL: Ask a Franciscan 28 W. Liberty St. Cincinnati, OH 45202

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.” May the Lord help you to believe that your life has had a very definite purpose even as you question it.

Are We Unconsciously Always Sinning?

The US bishops’ 2018 document “Open Our Hearts Wide: The Enduring Call to Love” says racism can be either conscious or unconscious. Carrying out racist actions is a sin. My older teenage son (and future lawyer) argues that we can never be forgiven because of our unconscious mind’s nature. He claims that our unconscious mind would always betray us—even in our sleep—making our dreams potentially venial sins. How can I answer him?



with “To know, love, and serve him in this world and be happy with him in the next.” Did the people you listed live in an ideal world? They would all be very surprised at any suggestion that they did. Genuine faith comes easily only to those who refuse to take it seriously. I cannot improve on this unedited prayer from St. John Henry Newman:


nconscious racism” does not have to remain unconscious. Once a person becomes aware of reflecting it, then he or she has an obligation to stop the lying (to oneself and others) that racism always requires to stay alive. No one person can eliminate racism, but everyone needs to do what is necessary in order to call it what it is—and then take the most effective action possible here and now. No one can change a past event, but everyone has the ability to decide whether to reinforce—and celebrate—whatever needs to be challenged. If your son becomes a lawyer, as a 19-year veteran of high school teaching, I predict that it won’t take him long to see the holes in the argument he is now making, an argument that always turns out to his advantage. No one can sin while dreaming. Some lines of reasoning are too simple to be true; this sounds like one of them. Would your son feel the same way if he were on the receiving end of unconscious racism? Certainly not.

Light a candle for your mother, or in memory of her, this Mother’s Day. When you light a candle on StAnthony.org, it will burn for three days at the National Shrine of St. Anthony in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Franciscan friars are ready to light a candle for you!

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The Franciscan Friars, Province of St. John the Baptist 1615 Vine St, Ste 1 Cincinnati, OH 45202-6492 513-721-4700, ext. 3219

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 11


Sister Agnes Thérèse’s current ministry is with Urban Mission in Steubenville, Ohio. Above, she works at a drive-through food giveaway in October 2020.

With the rosary clutched in her right hand, Sister Agnes Thérèse powers through the Cleveland Marathon in May 2019.


God was good; I knew God loved me. I knew he made me for a purpose, and I realized that I need to pray to spend time with the truth. The truth is a person, and I fell in love with him.” After graduation, Sister Agnes taught for a year, but the call to religious life was growing stronger, and she did a Come and See visit with the Dominican sisters in Nashville. She also investigated the Franciscan Sisters. After visiting with the TORs, she knew that she was called to their community. “I felt like I had come home when I visited them,” she recalls. “I enjoyed their spirit of freedom and simplicity. I remember when I was visiting and I was helping one of the sisters wash cars, I asked, ‘How do the sisters wash cars?’ She looked at me and asked, ‘How do you wash a car?’ The Dominicans were more regimented, and I have a tendency to be that way, so I think the Franciscan spirit is just what I needed.”

ecoming a sister was definitely not on Sister Agnes Thérèse Davis’ radar. Sister Agnes, who is 32 and a member of the community of Franciscan Sisters TOR of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Toronto, Ohio, grew up in New Hampshire and was baptized Emily Davis into the Lutheran faith, where her father was an elder. “Unbeknownst to us, my mother was stealthily studying about becoming a Roman Catholic and converted in 1998,” she says. “She began leaving Catholic reading material around, and I started reading some of it, especially about the Eucharist and the history of the Church. I remember thinking this is so obviously true. It was my choice to convert.” Sister Agnes, who converted in 2002 at the age of 14, attended public school and was also homeschooled for a time. She attended Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, earning degrees in Spanish and philosophy. It was while she was at Franciscan that her call to the religious life began. “Praying was an expectation in the Lutheran Church,” she says, “but once I became a Catholic, I started leading a sacramental life—going to Mass and confession—but I was not leading a prayerful life.” Sister Agnes, who is a runner, was spurred to become more prayerful by a friend. “I had been running regularly with a classmate who would sometimes say she didn’t have time to run because she ‘had to pray,’” Sister Agnes says. “I thought that was a terrible excuse, and she challenged me to spend an hour a day in prayer. It was what I needed. I knew

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Sister Agnes entered the community in 2010. “Since we don’t have professional careers, some [people], when I told them I was going to become a sister, felt I was wasting my gifts,” she says. “It was a bit of an adjustment for my parents. They had to mourn the dreams that they had for me and for the loss of unborn grandchildren.” Eventually, her family came around to the idea of her


Running toward God




joining a religious community. “In some ways, it was good that my desire to enter the TORs wasn’t so well received at the time,” Sister Agnes recalls. “I tend to do things to make people happy, and this didn’t. So, this was a gift. It strengthened my faith and my conviction that this is what I was called to do.” Sister Agnes took permanent vows in 2017 and has served in internal ministries: coordinating the motherhouse kitchen and working in mission advancement, plus teaching postulant classes and giving parish missions. She has also ministered in downtown Steubenville, working with the materially poor. “We used to run a thrift store and soup kitchen, but our thrift store closed and—with the pandemic—the soup kitchen has been on hiatus,” she says. “I have been serving on an ecumenical board of a Methodist-run ministry that operates a homeless shelter, thrift store, and soup kitchen in Steubenville, and another sister and I are now assigned to collaborate with them in their efforts downtown.” Sister Agnes and her fellow sisters also spend time on the streets praying with people and just making their presence known and being available to help. “Some people think that sisters are aloof, that we’re a subspecies of humans, but we have the same hopes, dreams, and struggles as everyone else,” she points out. “We just try to live the Gospel and bring the love of God to others.” Sister Agnes still enjoys running, and she and another sister ran the Cleveland Marathon in 2019. “We have an exercise habit—a short veil, white polo shirt, and culottes,” she says. “I couldn’t believe when we were running the marathon how happy people were to see us out on the road running with them. But I like to think that’s what we’re called to do. We’re running with everyone.”

The National Shrine of St. Anthony is located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Consecrated in 1889, it includes a first-class relic of St. Anthony and serves as a center for daily prayer and contemplation. The Franciscan friars minister from the shrine. To help them in their work among the poor, you may send a monetary offering called St. Anthony Bread. Make checks or money orders payable to “Franciscans” and mail to the address below.


Every Tuesday, a Mass is offered for benefactors and petitioners at the shrine. To seek St. Anthony’s intercession, mail your petition to the address below. Petitions are taken to the shrine each week. viSit our webSite to:

StAnthony.org mAil poStAl communicAtionS to:

St. Anthony Bread 1615 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 13

SPIRITOFST.FRANCIS “The needs of the time are the will of God.”

—Mother Alexia Hoell


By Pat McCloskey, OFM

School Sisters of St. Francis


Sister Carol Jean Ory works at the Casa Alexia mission in Juarez, Mexico. She is distributing cooking oil as part of the congregation’s food distribution program, which helps 110 impoverished families each month with basic necessities. The Casa Alexia mission is right on the US-Mexico border and is a very active area for her community’s work.


A Parking Lot Intercession


hile recently shopping at the local Walmart, I tripped and fell in the parking lot. I was very grateful to the number of folks who seemed to materialize out of nowhere to help get me to my feet. Being appreciative of their help, glad that nothing was broken, and obviously somewhat embarrassed, it did not even occur to me to check to see if anything had fallen out of my pocket. Returning to the car after shopping, I then realized that I did not have my keys. I looked around the immediate area to see if they had fallen on the ground but could find nothing. At that point, I asked St. Anthony for help. My wife noticed that there was a gentleman parked right next to my car who was getting into his, and she asked if he had seen any keys. He said he did not, but he would move his car forward to see if they were under it. I could not believe my eyes when I saw them on the ground. I really believe St. Anthony was looking out for me that day! —Roy Carroll Gary, Baltimore, Maryland 14 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

MOTHER ALEXIA HOELL God called her from a religious congregation in Germany to establish a new one in the United States. WHEN THE KULTURKAMPF forced her community in Germany to disband in 1872, Alexia Hoell and two other sisters eventually established the School Sisters of St. Francis (Milwaukee). They began in New Cassell, Wisconsin, and soon expanded into nearby states, usually teaching in parish schools. They accepted new members from the United States and from Germany. The sisters resisted Archbishop John Ireland’s desire for them to become a diocesan congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, and to downplay their German heritage. They moved their headquarters to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mother Alexia died in 1918. —Pat McCloskey, OFM


WANT MORE? Learn about your favorite saints and blesseds by going to: SaintoftheDay.org


he School Sisters of St. Francis were founded in 1874 by three German sisters to teach at St. Matthew Parish School in New Cassel (now Campbellsport), Wisconsin. After many similar requests from German pastors in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, the sisters moved their headquarters to Milwaukee. A teachers’ college for sisters (the precursor of Alverno College) opened there in 1887. The sisters entered health-care ministry with the 1893 opening of Milwaukee’s Sacred Heart Sanitarium. Other hospitals and health-care institutions soon followed. After 1917, the convent’s elegant new chapel quickly became one of the city’s architectural gems. Seven years later, its conservatory of music opened. In 1895, sisters went to Erlenbad, Germany. Soon they served in the Caroline Islands, India, China, England, and Latin America. In the 1960s, they expanded into Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, and Mexico. More recently, new provinces have been established in Bhopal and Kanjikode (India) and in Tanzania. Roughly 640 sisters and 170 lay associates worldwide now collaborate to promote a world where peace is nurtured and justice is advocated for all, where creation is reverenced and cared for, and where new ministries are fostered in response to needs. Congregations that branched off from this one will be featured in future issues. This congregation can be contacted at sssf.org. —Thanks to Eva Stefanski and Michael O’Loughline for assisting with this profile.


By Christopher Heffron

‘May God Give You Peace’


had my one and only panic attack more than a decade ago. While I was at lunch with a friend, I realized something wasn’t right. The noises around me were muffled. I couldn’t focus on the conversation. I was safely home when this internal hurricane made landfall. And when it hit, all I could do was lie on the floor and wait it out—my mind and heart rate going faster than I could process. When it was over, I was depleted. It’s unimaginable to me how people cope with chronic anxiety, but that single experience gave me a window into mental health struggles that I’ve never forgotten. And while I haven’t experienced a panic attack or any other mental health episode since, those who do suffer—considering our country’s social unrest and the ongoing stresses over COVID-19—face a daily uphill climb that warrants our care and respect.



our mental health is often shortchanged. Experts warn that avoidance will only compound symptoms, leading to worsening self-esteem and a decline in personal relationships. The APA recognizes that stigmas surrounding mental illness are also cultural. “Discrimination against people with mental illness can lead to harm,” their August 2020 report states. “People with mental illness are marginalized and discriminated against in various ways, but understanding what that looks like and how to address and eradicate it can help.” For those who love somebody struggling with mental illness, our first job—possibly our only job—is to be fully present and listen without prejudice. Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, now is a good time to put it into practice. BROKEN AND WORTHY OF REPAIR

My friend and colleague, Daniel Imwalle, Meghan Markle brought the issue of whose story on the mental health crisis mental health to the forefront last March you’ll find on page 26, was brave enough to acknowledge that he wages a daily war with when she spoke with Oprah Winfrey about her struggles as an active member of anxiety. But he advocated for his own wellthe British royal family. Suicidal thoughts ness and took the necessary steps to address it. took root during her first pregnancy and Dan understands what hasn’t yet crystallized never let up, leading her to step for millions in this country: We are wildly imperfect away from royal duties. And while Markle may have the creatures, yet fully made For those who love somebody struggling financial resources and opporin God’s image. And God with mental illness, our job is to be fully desires us to be well, to love tunities many of us do not, she deserves credit for shedding ourselves enough to be well. present and listen without prejudice. a light on a very dark subject. St. Francis of Assisi Depression, after all, recogknew this. As a veteran and nizes neither rank nor wealth. prisoner of war who likely The Duchess of Sussex is just one brick in a large wall. suffered from PTSD, Francis understood that he was broken and worthy of repair. He was a medieval man to his core, According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five adults in the United States lives yet his problems were not dissimilar to what we face today: with some form of mental illness—51.5 million in 2019. But a public health crisis, instability, emotional desolation, and in that same report, the NIMH found that 23 million, less deep anguish. But once he stripped himself of all things worldly, Francis understood that no wound was beyond than half, sought any form of treatment. There’s a reason for the disparity. The American God’s ability to heal. Psychiatric Association (APA) found those suffering from In a letter Francis wrote to Brother Leo, an early friar, his mental illness often avoid treatment because of public, persalutation should be on the lips of everyone who loves those sonal, or institutional stigma. For them, the cruel (and inacsuffering in mind or spirit: “May God smile on you and be curate) term crazy looms overhead. This frustrates mental merciful to you. May God turn his regard toward you and health professionals: If allergies inhibited our breathing, we give you peace.” would treat them. If we broke a bone, we would cast it. But For resources on mental health, go to nimh.nih.gov. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 15


By Kyle Kramer

Meeting the Challenge of This Moment



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n last month’s column, I explored the idea that, as we contemplate how we might help repair our hurting world, we need to start with the who rather than the what or the how. In other words, we must focus first on the type of people we need to become before we dive too deeply into strategizing about particular problems and their solutions. If we don’t get the who part right, we’ll almost certainly fumble on the what and the how. The world, I wrote, needs people who are visionary, curious, collaborative, courageous, disciplined, and humble. As I’ve contemplated our collective need to become the kind of people who can meet the challenges we face, I’ve realized that the who question does actually entail a how question: How can we become the people the world needs? How can we become our best, truest, most Christlike selves? This becoming is a lifetime’s journey. But a crucially important milestone on that journey is the passage from childhood into young adulthood. How do we help initiate our young people into the new roles, responsibilities, and way of being that adulthood requires? That inflection point has always been a critical moment in any young person’s development. It feels especially important at this moment in history, when our young people face a future filled with monumentally adult challenges like climate change, racial reckonings, and gridlocked politics. At the

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same time, many of us adults in the room haven’t really been acting like adults, compared to, say, the young climate activist Greta Thunberg. It feels especially important for me personally, as our son just turned 14, and we want to help him find a good path into young adulthood. I’m no child development expert (though I’m married to one), but it seems strange to me that, as important as it is for us to facilitate this passage into adulthood, we Americans don’t seem to invest much time or energy into getting it right. Traditional indigenous cultures, by comparison, have generally had robust, very intentional rituals to bring their young people into adulthood as full members of the tribe. I can’t think of many comparable examples in American culture. Somehow, prom and a driver’s license don’t seem to cut it. Even in our Catholic world, our young people’s preparation to receive the sacrament of Confirmation could be an even deeper and more powerful experience. RITES OF INITIATION

Traditionally, rites of initiation removed initiates from the normal round, isolated them (usually in the wilderness), and subjected them to some sort of ordeal that entailed suffering. Then the elders shared the tribe’s wisdom and invited the initiates to rejoin the tribe as adults, with their egos recentered not simply on themselves but toward service to


Kyle is the executive director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center, which offers interfaith educational programming in meditation, ecology, and social compassion. He serves as a Catholic climate ambassador for the US Conference of Catholic Bishopssponsored Catholic Climate Covenant and is the author of A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt (Ave Maria Press, 2010). He speaks across the country on issues of ecology and spirituality. He and his family spent 15 years as organic farmers and homesteaders in Spencer County, Indiana.


Kyle Kramer

Rites of passage and initiation, such as the one pictured above for young men who belong to the Hamer people in Ethiopia, are important developmental steps for the youth who participate in them and their surrounding communities. In American society, these formative and formal steps toward maturity are less common.

the well-being of the community. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has many characteristics of just such an initiation rite. A change from the ordinary? Check. Isolation? Absolutely. An ordeal of suffering? Without question. What I wonder about, however, is the role of the elders. Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, who has done a great deal of work on rites of passage for men and boys, suspects that “the basic reason that initiation died out is because there were not enough masters around.” Where are those elders and leaders who are willing to claim their role as the bearers of wisdom? How might we honor their experience, and so encourage them to speak in meaningful ways to our young people? How can we create opportunities for this kind of exchange to take place? Those aren’t rhetorical questions. The pandemic has robbed our young people of so much at such a formative time in their lives, and I think the least we can do is to find ways to turn it into an opportunity for them to make a conscious passage into adulthood. SEIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY

This will mean that more of us will have to step up to become the elders they need. Even if we feel unprepared, even if we haven’t been properly initiated ourselves, even if we’re also scared and suffering and disoriented by this pan-





demic, we can still reach out to our young people and help them along, however imperfectly. And we are not without resources. Who among us, by the time we reach midlife and beyond, hasn’t experienced pain or loss or discouragement? Who among us hasn’t gained at least some perspective on what is truly important versus what is trending on social media or in the news cycle? Who among us lacks at least an inkling that suffering is unavoidable, that we are limited and fragile and mortal, that our truest calling is to serve others and the greater good? This pandemic is not only an opportunity—however unanticipated and unasked for—to initiate our young people into their adulthood. It’s offering all of us a chance to walk through this time of suffering into a fuller, more mature way of being. To put it bluntly, it’s offering us a chance to grow up, as individuals and as an entire culture. It’s offering us the chance to leave behind silly, self-centered adolescent rivalries and ambitions so that we can come into right relationship with each other, with the more-than-human world, with our true selves, and with the divine source of it all. We Christians can look to Jesus, who showed us what it means to be a truly initiated adult and to invite others along that journey. And as we struggle through our own initiations, we can trust him to hold out his wise, loving hand and guide us through. With his help, we can become the truly adult people this moment requires.


If you are a grandparent of an adolescent, you have a ready-made opportunity to become an elder to your grandkids. Embrace it! Your parish Confirmation process is a perfect opportunity to provide a rich rite of passage for younger people. Reach out to your priest and faith formation director to see how you might help. Robert Bly, Richard Rohr, Bill Plotkin, and others offer many resources and wisdom concerning initiation rituals. Remember that rituals will often look different for boys than for girls. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 17

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As Mary grew older, what would she have thought about her role in the story of our faith tradition? A Franciscan writer imagines just that.

By Murray Bodo, OFM



f all the stories I’ve read in my lifetime, few opening lines move me more than this sentence from the Gospel of Luke: “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary” (1:26–27). I know now what’s coming, of course, but there was, once upon a time, a young boy in a New Mexico border town who opened the Douay Rheims version of the New Testament and read those words for the first time. This is when I began to fall in love with story itself as the vehicle of grace and knowledge. We are not just our minds. We live and move and have our being in and with the world around us. We experience our lives through all of our senses, and all of that experience is conveyed in story, which is more than ideas and beliefs. Story has movement and sound, and portrays how we interact with our environment, with human and living things, from plants to animals to the landscape of our lives in time. A story follows someone around, asking questions like, Where did he/she come from? Who are they? Where are they going? What is keeping them from getting there? What is going to happen to them? That whole gestalt is what story addresses, using those kinds of questions and then answering them through the same five senses by which we experience life, our own life. And story takes place in time, that mysterious dimension that begins, whether it is stated or not, with “Once upon a time . . . .” The pages that follow are Mary’s story as a human being who brings God to earth, Mary of Nazareth, the human mother of Jesus, who becomes the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Mediatrix of All Graces.

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 19

T [Mary] was not afraid. She needed no Gabriel to reassure her. She’d lived too long in the immensity of the mystery to doubt.

he meditations come from a Franciscan way of praying that the scholar Ewert Cousins called “the mysticism of the historical event,” which consists of taking a scene from Scripture and putting yourself into the scene, imagining you are one of the characters, and letting the scene open itself up to you. It is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a dimension of prayer in which you are open to grace and to the spiritual energy that derives from that particular scene or event in Scripture. It is akin to a pilgrimage to a geographical place where an extraordinary spiritual event took place. The pilgrims who make their way there don’t just seek an intellectual experience of the event but pray that the grace of that particular place will be given them to live it out in their lives that day and every subsequent day of their lives. St. Ignatius of Loyola later embraced this Franciscan way of praying, and it became an integral part of his Spiritual Exercises. These meditations are focused on the last year of Mary’s life when she is living with John, the Beloved Disciple, in Ephesus. (It’s possible she may also have lived for a time

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with John on Patmos.) It was Jesus himself who gave them to each other as mother and son when he spoke to them from the cross thus: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26–27). She knew from the moment of the rush of Gabriel’s wings and his lilting “Hail, full of Grace,” that she was only the handmaid, the servant of the most high God, and Gabriel only the messenger of God’s message. But what she could not have known was that she was more than God’s servant; she, mysteriously, was to be a vessel of the living God, and she was afraid. And Gabriel knew she was afraid and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for he who will be born of you will be known as the son of God.” How can this be, she thought, and immediately she knew that God had come to her because she was a woman, and she was pure potential for motherhood, and no one human would be the agent.


nd knowing, Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). Then she, in turn, replied, “May it be done according to your word” (Lk 1:38). And that was it, Gabriel himself open-eyed at her response; he himself, like her, unaware of the depths of the words they were exchanging, aware though of whose words Gabriel had announced to her. The words’ unfolding would be her pregnancy full of grace and light unimaginable: a child whom she was to name Jesus, a child of her womb, a son whose origins were in eternity, begotten of God, born of a woman who was her very self, a mere girl who was suddenly woman, mother of a boy who was pure mystery though he was somehow in her like any baby and would come from her into the world. That is how she remembered it, here in Ephesus. She was now as she was then: a girl, a woman, waiting and watching for the angel who would announce the word of her passing into the heaven where her Son ruled at the right hand of the Father. She was not afraid. She needed no Gabriel to reassure her. She’d lived too long in the immensity of the mystery to doubt. Nor did she wonder who she would be in eternity. She would be who she always was: Mary, the mother of God’s Son. She suspected that would be her role for all eternity: mother, woman, the completion of the love of the mysterious faces of God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—the mystery moving through the three of them into her, visible in eternity as it is invisible on earth. She would share these thoughts with John, who would see immediately that they are not her own aged self-absorption but her meditations on God’s mystery, her part in which was only as great or as small as God’s plan, God’s word. And the Word, as John insists, was there in the beginning and became flesh through her only because God chose to reveal the Word by becoming human, by enfleshing the Word in Jesus. How marvelous such thoughts were! How sustaining when she remembered how Jesus suffered and died—and she was helpless to do anything to save him who was saving her and the whole of the Father’s creation by hiding his divinity in suffering and dying like a mere man. How much was still hidden from her. How much was revealed when Jesus came for her and led her into the mystery of who he and she really are, when the mystery was opened and revealed, when the human Jesus became the eternal word he always was, even as a child in her womb and as a dead man in a tomb. She smiled at how much she still remembered, the girl who thought and prayed and played in Nazareth. The Little Thinker, her mother called her. Who we are we were, she thought. And when I die, will I just die into my thoughts that will bring me into heaven on the arm of my son? She did not recognize him at first, though she knew it was he. His eyes were the same, the color of the sea, blue to green depending on the light and season of the year. “Little pools,” she called them when he was a baby. Yet how changed his StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 21

countenance and body now. What marvels of transformation between dying and rising! She could only imagine what had transpired between his death on the cross and this extraordinary man standing in the room, the doors locked and they all gathered in prayer, and she wondering how and when he would reappear among them, and would he still be her son? But of course he was, and he called her “our mother.” It was the “our” that was new and sounded prophetic, sounded almost eternal. A given, something that was there from eternity. The other disciples only looked on, wondering. He had no discernible clothes, though he was covered in an opaque aura, a sort of raiment that allowed his glorified wounds to reveal that skin was still there. His hands hung out from the tunic-like raiment, and his feet, though bare, touched the floor the way they did when he would come in from playing and would remove his sandals, as though the earthen floor were sacred, and he needed to feel it as he walked over to embrace her.


ow she had waited for that embrace! Her whole life from the time Gabriel, God’s messenger, appeared to her, she had lived her life in waiting. She waited in Egypt for God to reveal that she and Joseph and Jesus would be safe to return to their homeland. Even now she waited, doing what she always did in her daily life, a lesson she had learned when she was told of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She had made the extraordinary journey to Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month of waiting as she held John the Baptizer within her womb, both she and Elizabeth waiting then to be acted upon by God, both of them wondering what mystery would be revealed in the child they bore as other women did, the very baby within them. Waiting. Waiting for the mystery to be revealed to them. Waiting and doing what all women did in the waiting: namely, living as they always did, only now for two, the baby and themselves, whose lives would be revealed to them when the child was born. In her and Elizabeth, they already knew, was a boy, whose tiny feet would one day walk upon the earthen floor that their extraordinary lives would transcend when, as men, they would begin the redemption of Israel. All life, it seemed to her, was shown us in the waiting of a woman’s pregnancy. You lived from day to day, as before, but ever aware that there was a miracle within waiting to reveal itself. The difference for Elizabeth and Mary herself was that they both already knew that their child would be extraordinary in the history of their people. It had nothing to do with them but with God’s working quietly within them. And yet, it had everything to do with them, for their child would be blood of their blood, flesh of their flesh, so they themselves would be bearing the child in the reverence of prayer, the awareness like unto their own deep prayer. And it was that prayer that made the waiting itself a prayer that their very way of being and doing would be one part of their contribution to the forming of the child within them.

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hey could not force the time to be shortened; they could not act in some grand way with the gestures reserved for their sons. But both—in their own ways—had prepared their sons by the love with which they surrounded this child-to-be in their waiting for him to be revealed. They waited to see how their love had made a very baby in whose eyes they would see their own love given prayerfully for nine months. And now in this new rebirth of Jesus, Mary could still see her own love in the eyes that looked back at her as he walked upon the earthen floor, much as he had walked the first time he waddled and stumbled into her arms, a little baby boy becoming. She had held Jesus in her arms once he’d walked so determined but hesitantly toward her open arms; she had held him lifeless in her lap when he was taken down from the cross; she would now wait for him to embrace her with the love with which she had embraced him all the days of his life. Even when he left home to embrace the Father’s will that he preach and teach, suffer and die for the people of Israel, she embraced him lovingly in her heart every day as she waited for the next mystery to be revealed. When God works upon us, she thought, then the real working of our lives is in the waiting, waiting to receive what is given us when we wait upon the Lord in all we are and all we have. What new waiting will now follow upon this new embrace of him who approaches her Godlike in his bearing and in his walk but still walking like an ordinary man upon the earthen floor upon which he was born.

Murray Bodo, OFM, is a Franciscan priest and member of the Franciscan Academy. He is the award-winning author of numerous books, including the best-selling Francis: The Journey and the Dream, three books of poetry, and Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis.

This article is adapted from Nourishing Love: A Franciscan Celebration of Mary, a new book by Murray Bodo, OFM (Franciscan Media).

To order a copy go to:


For 15% off, use code: NourishingSAM StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 23

By Bond Strong

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Our Nighttime Blessing

A loving, nightly ritual with her young son teaches a mom more than she expected.


e insists he can get into his bed on his own. I watch, amused, as he grunts and pulls himself up onto the end by the headboard. He lies down and rolls over onto his stomach, and I join him. I rub his back gently while tunelessly singing a song of his choice. When the song is over, I draw a cross on his forehead and say, “I love you, baby.” In return, he makes a cross-like figure on my forehead before saying, “Love you too,” and rolling over to fall asleep. The gesture is sweet and innocent, and it floods me with peace every evening regardless of how our wills clashed that day. As I stare at the wall listening as his breaths morph into the deep breathing patterns that accompany sleep, I am struck by the random, half-formed thought that his goodnight gesture was purer than my own. Although he is now asleep, I continue to lie there, held captive by this thought. I was blessing him out of love, though still the love that a parent has for a child. That love is bound up in a necessary hierarchy within the family to protect children. It comes naturally to me as a parent to make these gestures. I have a responsibility that this child doesn’t comprehend yet.



As these thoughts begin to snowball, I pause. A picture of him in his white baptismal gown floods my memory. What a sweet day that was! I realize this bedtime moment was a continuation of that joyful day. I made the gesture knowing whom I was marking him for. I am marking him for Christ as I did when I presented him for Baptism at a few weeks old. He may have felt water run over his head the day of his Baptism, but the meaning of it was not available to him yet. And even now, at 3 years old, he still doesn’t fully understand who Jesus is. He knows we speak of him and to him and sing songs about him. He knows he hangs on the crucifix over the altar at Mass and that somehow, Mommy says, when the priest holds up that piece of bread, Jesus is there too. Even with that lack of understanding and maturity, I

recognize the grace bestowed upon him through Baptism at work in him as the same grace at work in me. I realize, just like my son, I don’t fully understand who Jesus is either. In the light of an eternal God, we are equals in understanding. I roll toward him, deciding to stay a little longer than usual. I reach over and hold his limp hand. I realize when he reaches his little, oftentimes sticky hand over to make the sign of the cross on my forehead at night, he is using every ounce of dignity given him as a human being born in the image of God. He doesn’t have to fully understand who Jesus is yet to know that this gesture means something—something good and holy—and to want to share that with the people he loves. His innocence gives him the power to bestow these gifts of God on others. EXPANDING FAITH

My receptivity to his exploration and evolving understanding of faith and the world has much to teach me. Mostly, I see it is teaching me that even as I exist in this parent-child relationship, which relies so heavily on my judgment, we are equals in the eyes of our Father. It opens me up to the reality that my son has just as much to teach me as I have to teach him. It also helps me make decisions in my parenting that respect and honor him as an individual person and not as a person to constantly project my will upon. Maybe my desire for a more just and equitable society starts in the way I parent. The least of these—my brother, my equal—is my own child. And by leaning into his understanding, I am receiving glimpses of a heaven he already sees. With this new knowledge, I give him a kiss on the head and, as quietly as possible, I get up from the bed. I pull the door closed and walk to the living room refreshed and thankful to walk with my son on this journey to God. Bond Strong lives in the mountains of southwest Virginia with her husband and two sons. She writes for several online platforms and organizes pilgrimages for parishes. Find out more about her at BondWarnerStrong.com. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 25

A Catholic Response

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Mental Health Crisis


to the

Behind the statistics, facts, and figures on our nation’s mental health crisis are human beings— all children of God. How the Church and we, as people of faith, respond can save lives and help get people who are suffering the help they need.




By Daniel Imwalle

hey’re family members, coworkers, friends, and fellow parishioners. In the United States alone, an estimated 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, and another 16 million have clinical depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). When the numbers of people with other mental illnesses are added in, the figure represents about 20 percent of the US population. Think of five people you know: One of them is likely dealing with a mental health condition. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the collective mental health of our society. Many who were already diagnosed with a condition saw their mental health deteriorate, despite their best efforts to keep a healthy regimen of medication and/ or counseling. Many who were previously not struggling with a mental health condition now find themselves facing one, due to the social isolation, mass death, and stress of living in a pandemic. The direct line between mental illness and suicide cannot be overlooked. One way to view suicide is as the final, fatal symptom of mental illness. For those who suffer from an invisible illness, suicide is, sadly, sometimes the only physical indication that something is wrong. The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control come from 2018:

47,511 deaths by suicide in the United States. On a personal level, two classmates from the Catholic high school I attended, one friend from the Catholic university I went to, and a family friend from a Catholic family all died by suicide in the span of about five years. Each death delivered a shock wave throughout circles of friends and families. ‘EVERY PRIEST MUST KNOW HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY’

An invisible plague is in some ways the most terrifying, as it lurks among us as something unspoken, its reality even doubted or vilified. However, both science and faith remind us that there is hope. Now more than ever, the role of the Church to be a welcoming, safe place for those with a mental illness is increasingly important. With lives on the line, it’s crucial for awareness to be raised and educational resources on mental illness shared with Catholic schools and parishes from coast to coast. Moreover, Church leaders are in a unique position to help destigmatize mental health and treatment. In a 2019 interview with the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Pope Francis opened up about a time in the 1970s when he sought out the help of a psychotherapist. “Being provincial of the Jesuits in the terrible days of the dictatorship, in which I had to take StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 27


The good news with regard to the mental health crisis is the rapid increase in resources and acceptance across the country, and Catholics looking for an approach to treatment that incorporates their belief system are finding more doors opening than ever before. Take the CatholicPsych Institute (CatholicPsych.com), for example. 28 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

The institute was founded in 2012 by Dr. Greg Bottaro, a clinical psychologist who had previously discerned the vocation of becoming a priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. “Christ himself needed help carrying his cross,” Dr. Bottaro says. “That’s how we see ourselves. Our vocations are to be like Simon of Cyrene, to help bear the burden of Christ’s cross with the people who are suffering.” At the CatholicPsych Institute, tried and true methods of counseling are couched in a Catholic understanding of the human person. They’re treating not only minds, but souls as well. “The truths that have been discovered through psychological science and research will further illuminate and flesh out other truths that we already believe by faith,” Dr. Bottaro says. A major component of the model at the institute is mindfulness, which Dr. Bottaro defines as simply “paying attention to the present moment nonjudgmentally.” With practice, one can do anything mindfully, including prayer. “We are always in the presence of God,” Dr. Bottaro says. “And if we are mindful of that, then we are always praying.” Married couple Dr. Bryan and Teresa Violette bring a wealth of experience and unique strengths to the team of 13 therapists at the institute. Some of their areas of expertise overlap, with marriage and family counseling, for example. Men’s issues are part of Dr. Bryan’s purview, while Teresa focuses more on parenting consultation and children’s issues. “Men today are largely stuck between two poles,” Dr. Bryan


people in hiding to get them out of the country and thus save their lives, I had to handle situations that I did not know how to deal with,” the pope said. “Throughout those six months, she helped me position myself in terms of a way to handle the fears of that time.” He also pointed out the role of priests in addressing mental health at the parish level. “I’m convinced that every priest must know human psychology,” Pope Francis said. “There are those who know it from the experience of the years, but the study of psychology is necessary for a priest.” Fortunately, there is a growing trend to bring the power of religious convictions and spirituality into mental health treatment. Across the country, therapists and social workers are finding that the combined approach of faith-infused mental health care is resonating with individuals for whom spirituality is interconnected with their mental well-being. A number of experts in the field agreed to share their stories with St. Anthony Messenger.

“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

—Catechism of the Catholic Church (2282–2283)

says. “The first is one of hypermasculinity, which allows little space for relationality, empathy, and self-gift. The other is one of oversentimentality, lack of confidence, and little development in self-governance. Men today are underdeveloped and could use guidance into a more servant leadership manner of living. . . . And, of course, Jesus is the perfect model for this.” At the beginning of her career as a counselor, Teresa’s work centered on children and adolescents. Particularly with children, the notion of “play therapy” was a major component of her treatment model. “Since the language of children is play, play therapy would be the means to helping children work through obstacles and emotional wounds,” Teresa says. “With adolescents, talk therapy would be the approach.” Now Teresa is more focused on working with parents to apply the same techniques. “I teach parents how to do what I do in the play therapy room,” she says. “In helping parents better connect with their children, I teach them how to interpret their child’s needs based on different concerning behaviors seen and how to skillfully meet those needs once identified.” At its core, the CatholicPsych Institute poses a very simple yet profound question to those it serves. “‘How can I help you?’ is such a powerful question, and it comes with the weight of responsibility,” Dr. Bottaro says. In that same spirit, a friar in Detroit shares his experience as a licensed social worker who has worked on the front lines of the mental health crisis.



For Father Fred Cabras, OFM Cap, his Franciscan identity is strongly linked to his work in the world of mental health. He points to Francis of Assisi as an example of how to respond to suffering, especially those on the margins of society. “Francis is all about accompaniment, about walking with people on their journey wherever they are,” Father Fred says. Prior to obtaining master’s degrees in social work and divinity (from Loyola University and Catholic Theological Union, respectively), Father Fred had studied psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder himself, Father Fred can personally relate to those who struggle with a mental illness, and he points out that a good number of people who enter the field of social work either have a mental health issue or have a family member with one. During the formation process with the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, Father Fred also became a licensed social worker. Eventually, he interned as an inpatient psychiatric social worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, followed by another year and a half in the hospital’s emergency room, where patients experiencing psychiatric clinical emergencies would be treated. In his time spent doing social work at Northwestern Memorial, there were plenty of success stories and breakthroughs that made his job profoundly reward-

Resources and Ways to Get Help • For both paid and free courses on a variety of topics, visit the CatholicPsych Institute’s page with digital resources: CatholicPsych.com/ store. Keep an eye out for virtual town halls and new published materials at CatholicPsych.com.

• The National Catholic Partnership on Disability has a dedicated page for its Council on Mental Illness: NCPD. org/CouncilonMentalIllness. There, visitors can find educational resources and a webinar on suicide.

• Sister Hope is an AI chat technology developed by Catholic software engineers that helps connect people of faith struggling with a mental health issue with professional counselors and therapists: SisterHope.org.

• The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization and is dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness: NAMI.org.

• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 29

Firsthand Knowledge


30 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org


along its increasingly rapid descent. Social interactions, especially ones where I felt I was being evaluated (real or imagined), began to become unbearable for me. Speaking to a group, even in casual settings, became a daunting experience. I felt as though I could hear my voice in my head, much like a side effect of cold medicine. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but now I know what is meant by “feelings of unreality.” It’s as if you’re simultaneously detached from the present but hyperaware of how you’re perceived My voice must sound so shaky, I would think. Why can’t I think straight? I’m starting to stutter and not make sense. I wonder if people are noticing, judging. The interior monologue would start and seemed to not stop. Or it would fade away when I got to a safe place like home. But then I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and the critical thoughts and self-judgments would go into warp speed. God, why is this happening to me? I prayed. Help me. And God did. Well, in the typical mysterious ways. A counselor with a heart of gold and a psychiatrist with the same Jesuit education I had, who knew where I was coming from, guided me to a place of better mental health. First, we had to name the demon: anxiety, with a touch of depression, as the two tend to present together. Generalized anxiety disorder, accompanied with social anxiety disorder and depression, was the official diagnosis. Over the course of a year, on the roller coaster that is mental health treatment, I landed on a medication that works for me. I grappled, as many do, with the fact that I needed to take a medication. My doctor laid it out for me like this, though: “If you were diabetic, would you take insulin?” I knew he was right, but it took some time to accept the truth. I still have bad days, sometimes a string of bad days. But I know what they are now—and that they will pass. My counselor continues to help me chisel away at fears and anxiety triggers through talk therapy. I am blessed to have a support system that extends beyond my counselor and doctor, which includes my wife, family, coworkers, and friends. And they know I’m there for them also. Upon revealing my struggle with anxiety, I’ve heard many times: “I know what you’re going through. I have it too.” I’ve named my demon, figuratively speaking, and I will not passively stand by and allow it to possess me—as it once did. God is with me throughout the hard days and the not-so-hard days. I thank God that I live in a world where there is help available, amazing scientific developments in the fields of therapy and medicine, and goodhearted people willing to help, even if simply by listening. There is hope.


For Daniel Imwalle, managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger, music has long been a creative outlet and a way of working through emotions, both positive and negative.

distinctly remember the day I asked for help. It was in August 2014. It was another hot, humid summer Friday in Cincinnati. My spirits should’ve been up since the weekend was upon me, and I had just started a new job as assistant editor at St. Anthony Messenger. My wife, Belinda, had already gotten home from her job when I arrived, tears streaming down my face. I fell into her arms by our back door, and, between sobs, told her that something wasn’t right, that I didn’t feel well. It wasn’t something I could pinpoint like a stomachache, a sore throat, or even something in particular that went wrong that day. In fact, nothing went wrong. A longsimmering sense of existential dread had been slowly increasing in temperature over the years. One of my earliest memories is that of a panic attack I had, following the funeral of my great-grandmother. Over the years, that phobic reaction to the reality of death (both my own and of my loved ones) would snowball and acquire other elements

Father Fred Cabras, OFM Cap, meets with a client at the Capuchin Services Center in Detroit to help provide essential resources. A licensed social worker with a background in psychology, Father Fred believes that parish priests should be trained to help those struggling with mental health find the care they need.

raise awareness and provide education for priests and parish groups on the subject of mental health. Many priests, though gifted in guiding parishioners on their spiritual journeys, are simply not equipped to handle situations where someone is experiencing mental health problems. Father Fred points out that priests shouldn’t feel expected to professionally treat or solve a person’s mental health struggle, but they should be able to respond pastorally and know what to do to get the person the help they need. In the end, it all comes back to St. Francis’ method of simply accompanying those who are suffering. “Presence is the most important thing,” Father Fred says. “When you’re working with persons with mental illness, presence is so important, just sitting there and listening.” That simple action is a reminder to us all that we are truly never alone in the light of God’s presence. Daniel Imwalle is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger. He and his wife, Belinda, live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoy spending time with their pets (two cats and a dog) and getting fresh air on hikes in nearby parks and forests.



ing. Bonding with patients over shared faith was often a means to make important human connections. “I met with an older woman who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia,” Father Fred says. “She was a devout Christian and believed that God was with her in her illness. We sat for over an hour during her initial session, discussing her illness and God. She appreciated that I did not question her relationship with God or try to make it part of her illness. “By the time she left, about a month later, the medication and talk therapy with me had given her the language to differentiate between her spiritual side and her struggle with mental illness. I received a letter from this patient’s daughter later on, thanking me for educating their family and helping their mother to feel better.” Currently, Father Fred works in case management with the Capuchin Services Center in Detroit, helping clients find housing, jobs, and other essential resources. He also serves as a board member with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) and as a board liaison for its Council on Mental Illness. In this capacity, Father Fred hopes to

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 31

with Your Body

32 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

By Shannon K. Evans



Ways Pray to


rayer can be a joyous thing. It connects us to our life source, consoles us, reorders our priorities, and gives us a sense of meaning. For anyone serious about pursuing spiritual growth, there is no getting around the prerequisite of a regular prayer life. But if you’ve committed to the discipline for any length of time, the odds are good that you’ve experienced the valleys as well as the mountaintops. And when prayer feels uninspired, sometimes the solution is as simple as a change of approach. When we think of prayer, many of us think of sitting still in a quiet room with our eyes closed. Perhaps we picture a Bible open, rosary in hand, or list of intentions nearby—and those are wonderful ways to pray. But our ideas about what constitutes prayer tend to be narrow, limited to the formal approaches we have traditionally learned. When we find ourselves stuck in a rut and feeling bored, sleepy, or distracted in prayer, sometimes the answer lies in reaching beyond the small box we’ve stuffed prayer in. And nothing does that better than our very own bodies. In the Western world, we tend to relate to our



Integrating our spiritual and physical selves can lead to a richer prayer experience.



Our hearts tend to follow our bodies, which is why our Catholic faith incorporates so many physical acts into our celebration of the Mass. When we kneel, sit, stand, genuflect, extend peace to one another, make the sign of the cross, or sign our head, lips, and heart before the Gospel reading, we are signaling to our brains to integrate these rituals into our entire being. Likewise, stretching while we pray can serve the same purpose. As we stretch our bodies, we can pray to be spiritually stretched as well. We can start with thanksgiving for our bodies, no matter what shape they’re in, for serving us and working hard on our behalf. We can take just a moment to honor the fact that our bodies are sacred, holy, home to the Spirit of God, and deeply worthy of our kindness and care.

bodies primarily through what they do. Athletic achievements, caregiving for the young or old, birthing babies, engaging in sexual intimacy, gaining or losing weight: These are just a few of the ways we pay attention to our physical bodies. Very few of us spend much time thinking about how these bodies impact our spiritual lives. We sometimes seem to have a list of areas that use our bodies—and spirituality is not one of them. And yet it is. Jesus, after all, had a human body. What’s more, he gives it to us to eat and drink. Jesuit priest and playwright Bill Cain, SJ, explains that before Jesus offered himself to the world as our food, he first demonstrated embodiment. This is my body. Only then can he say, given for you. Our response to this, Father Cain says, is to locate Christ in our body; knowing our own body in wholeness before we can offer it to others out of that wholeness. If our spiritual selves are separate from our physical selves, the lack of integration will hold us back from fully living as Christ in the world. Here are five ideas to get started.

We can prayerfully listen to what our bodies are telling us about our needs and capacity. Perhaps there are changes that we should make to our everyday lifestyle. Perhaps there is an injury we need to tend. Stretching is also a good way to invite God to teach us about holding tension in our lives. Just as we must stay in uncomfortable physical positions when we stretch, following Jesus often requires us to linger in uncomfortable nonphysical positions too. Engaging with our bodies can propel us into prayer as we invite God to teach us not to flee from discomfort but to patiently and generously hold space for new or opposing ideas, people who annoy us, and difficult situations. As we train our bodies to welcome discomfort for our own growth, we can train our brains to do the same in our spiritual, relational, and personal lives. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 33



Some people thrive on praying alone in silence in a darkened room, but for many of us that idealized picture of prayer leads only to an unplanned nap. For these people, prayer walking may be a life-giving alternative. This is a particularly powerful exercise for intercessory prayer, or engaging in prayer on behalf of other people, world events, or social issues rather than our personal lives. We might take a prayer walk on the sidewalks of our neighborhood, praying for neighbors by name and for the struggles we know to be in their lives. We might walk

34 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

we are acting out a prayer that goodness and life will find a way, and a path to pray for our personal lives opens up as well. When we feel despair, when we feel depressed, hopeless, and forlorn, there may be no greater act of faith-filled prayer than going outside and planting seeds. Weeding, watering, and nurturing fledgling plants requires a practice of tenderness and care, qualities we are not always good at extending to ourselves. In the weeks it takes for our garden to burst to life, we can pray with our bodies for God to enliven us to nurture ourselves with the same patience that we offer our plants. We are reminded of the gentleness with which our Heavenly Gardener tends to us, and we might ask ourselves how we can better imitate that gentleness in relationship with ourselves and others. When our fruits and vegetables are finally ready to be harvested and eaten, manual labor reminds us of all the good gifts we are reaping. No matter how hard our circumstances are, there is always bounty to be had when we are aware of the vibrant divine presence in all things. When we harvest our garden, our physical movements can become prayers of thanksgiving for the goodness in our lives.

through the streets of our city’s downtown, around our schools, or in other public areas as we pray about the pain and injustices in our communities. Physically putting our bodies within the parameters of the places and people we are praying for can unite our hearts in a deeper way to our intentions—and that feeling of unity always indicates the presence and movement of God. When we engage in intentional prayer walking, our bodies are in the gracious position of bringing us into a firsthand encounter with the things for which we are praying. Physical proximity can and does produce proximity of the heart.


Jesus regularly used metaphors of farming and plant life to teach about the kingdom of God, and there is a reason why. The earth is ripe with spiritual correlations, and, by engaging with creation in a hands-on way, we can open our eyes to truths we haven’t otherwise seen. As lifelong gardeners can attest, clearing brush and pulling weeds can draw us into prayer. As we engage in the physical act of removing what is old and deadened to make space for healthier new growth, we might realize that the same must be done in our inner lives. As we coax stubborn roots and clear the dried remains of last year’s fruit, we may find ourselves praying that the same would take place in our hearts, that God would clear out the brush from our souls so new seeds may be planted. Planting seeds is an act of faith, whether we recognize it or not: faith in a mysterious Creator, faith in the earthen elements, faith in the will of life to continue on, and even faith in ourselves to commit to something we begin. The practice of planting, when done with a spiritual mind, can be a radically prophetic act. In depositing seeds in the dirt,






One of the loveliest ways we can engage our senses in the act of prayer is through Visio Divina, which is Latin for “Divine Seeing.” To enter into this prayer practice, we select a piece of visual art such as a photograph, icon, sculpture, mosaic, or painting—the possibilities are endless, really. Before beginning, we pray for a receptive heart that may be attuned to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We begin with noticing our first impression, focusing on what we were immediately drawn to about the visual. Spending a few minutes on this, always gently bringing our attention back whenever it strays, we ask questions to ourselves and to God about the feelings we experience. As we sit with the details of our first impression, we might feel the Holy Spirit begin to move within us. Next we “zoom out,” so to speak, to observe the piece as a whole. What feelings are aroused by what we behold? What memories or experiences come to mind? We can listen for the still, small voice of God speaking to us through the art by the use of our eyes and our sacred imaginations. In response to the movement of God, we determine one impression that we’d like to bring with us into our day. It might be an action to take, a written reminder to ourselves, or some creative expression we feel inspired to make. The point is to have something to carry out of the prayer session and into the rest of our day so that we continue to be transformed.



While it might initially feel foreign in our Western expression of Christianity, praying with mantras— short, simple, repetitive phrases—is actually a rich part of our tradition. The Jesus Prayer, for example, probably dates to the fifth-century desert fathers and mothers. In this prayer we say, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me,” repeating it slowly and mindfully for an extended period. Our physical selves are engaged in prayer through our lips, tongue, and ears; meanwhile, our minds and hearts are directed inward as we inhale and exhale. Often when we pray aloud, we do so with a longer prayer that is only read or spoken once. But repetition can have immense spiritual benefits. The more we hear an idea spoken—especially by our own mouths—the more inclined we are to believe it and integrate it into our subconscious. Additionally, verbal repetition frees our minds to stop overthinking about conjuring grandiose words and instead dive deeper into the openness of true meditation. This is why the rosary continues to be such a popular form of prayer. Aside from the Jesus Prayer, other mantras might be “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,” the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, a short phrase from Scripture, or even a one-word intention such as “trust.” Some people prefer to pray mantras while sitting in silence, while others employ them as they go about their day-to-day lives. Both methods incorporate the physical body and senses.

Integrating our bodies into our spiritualities through various means of prayer can help us embody a gospel that looks a little more vibrant, integrated, and whole.




Although our culture separates body and spirit, the very incarnation of Jesus speaks to a higher reality. Just as Jesus embodied both divinity and humanity, so, too, do our bodies hold our humanity and the Holy Spirit. To live out the maximum spiritual health we were made for, we are called to the work of integration; and engaging our bodies in the act of prayer is the fast track to get there. If our prayer lives are feeling dull, we must remember

there are actionable steps we can take to enliven them. Integrating our bodies into our spiritualities through various means of prayer can help us embody a gospel that looks a little more vibrant, integrated, and whole—a gospel that looks a little more like the one Jesus gave us. Shannon K. Evans is a mother of five and author who has written numerous articles for St. Anthony Messenger and other Catholic publications. To learn more about her work, visit ShannonKEvans.com. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 35

Models of Motherly Love Through her sculptures, this artist celebrates the beauty of maternal love. Artwork by Karen Schmidt Story by Susan Hines-Brigger

hen one thinks of motherhood and maternal love, it’s hard not to immediately go to Mother Mary. She is the ultimate example of both. As Catholics, we witness that as we celebrate her yes to the angel Gabriel and mourn with her as she suffers the pain of losing her only son. And even though we associate her most with being Jesus’ mother, we must also remember that she is mother to us all. In her, we see the many ways in which women can demonstrate that maternal love—as mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. Through her sculptures, featured here, artist Karen Schmidt captures the essence of that love through her work. With her art, Schmidt displays the many facets and examples of ways in which maternal love is shown. And while she captures the beauty of Mary and her role as the mother of the beloved Christ Child, Schmidt also celebrates maternal love in other forms, such as in the sculpture of a Maasai mother holding her child, as seen to the left. The sculpture to the right, of two sisters in a Bugisu village in Uganda, shows that maternal love is not just reserved for mothers. This month, as we celebrate mothers, let us also remember to celebrate all those who demonstrate maternal love—in many varied ways. And let us look to the example of Mary as our inspiration. To learn more about Schmidt’s work, visit her website, KarenSchmidtSculpture.com.

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“A society without

mothers would be an inhuman society, as

mothers always know how to show tenderness, devotion, and

moral strength, even in the moments of

greatest difficulty.”


—Pope Francis

In this sculpture, we perceive the son’s trust in his loving father, and so we begin to understand the relationship he has with his heavenly Father. Mary, like the Church, adores her son. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 37

The Madonna of Compassion at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, portrays the strength and tenderness of Mary, the compassion and love of Jesus, and the interaction between them. Seated on an altar, a place of sacrifice and surrender, she holds her son as he touches her face with the sign of his blessing. 38 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

“The most important person on earth is

a mother. She can-

not claim the honor

of having built Notre

Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has

built something more magnificent than any

cathedral: a dwelling for an immortal soul,

the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.”

—Venerable Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty

This sculpture of Mary and Elizabeth was commissioned for the chapel of the Elizabeth House, a home in California for pregnant women in crisis. We see Mary in her humanity: a young, vulnerable girl, in awe of the One who dwells within her. It portrays her obedience, faith, and courage. Elizabeth serves as an example to us, calling us to come alongside the vulnerable.

Karen Schmidt is an award-winning sculpture artist from Anaheim, California. She says that, while the creative process is deeply personal, she rediscovers herself and the world as she sculpts in clay. Susan Hines-Brigger is an executive editor of this magazine and mother of four. StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 39

By Susan Hines-Brigger

Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church Find it on your favorite podcast app




PoDCaST TV & STreaMing




report on McCarrick. It then looks at other events of the year, including the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the controversial remarks by Pope Francis regarding sex-abuse cases in Chile. Many of the episodes contain a disclaimer at the beginning, warning listeners that they will be hearing descriptions of sexual abuse. Make no mistake, this can be tough to listen to. But it is important to hear. The series does a great job of providing a 360-degree look at the crisis, making sure that the listener does not get only one side of the story. Episodes range from the more newsy aspects of the crisis—such as a time line of what happened when and what happens once an allegation is made—to the more personal and investigative scope of the crisis, featuring stories of survivors and topics such as the role of the laity, bishops’ accountability, and others. Anyone with concerns that this is a justification or soft treatment of the abuse crisis need not worry. This podcast is an honest, painful look at this very important topic. And while it is tough to listen to, I would recommend that people take the time to listen. In asking people to share the podcast with family, friends, coworkers, or parishioners, Lozoya says that the first step to ending abuse in the Church is to not be silent about it.



he introductory episode of the podcast Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church, a series which ran in September 2019, starts off with a chilling recollection by Father Boniface Ramsey of a photo of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and a young boy standing together in their swim trunks. It is powerful because Father Ramsey is the one who spoke up about McCarrick’s sexually abusive behavior, which had gone unchecked for so long. (McCarrick has since been laicized for his actions.) After that, host Karna Lozoya, executive director of strategic communications for the Catholic University of America, fills listeners in as to how the podcast came to be and what it would be discussing. She recalls that she started her position just weeks after the report was released about the sexual abuse perpetrated by McCarrick. Lozoya teamed up with The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America, to create the podcast— a 10-part series discussing the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and its origins, characters, causes, and reforms. During the episodes, she interviews bishops, survivors, reporters, lawyers, social workers, and many more. The first episode recounts the events of 2018, beginning with the issuing of the

Karna Lozoya

e-learning & online


Father Boniface Ramsey

By Christopher Heffron

The Minimalists: Less Is Now Netflix

Less Is More!


ooking to downsize or live more simply? Stream these before you take the leap!


Netflix n the surface, it may look like your typical renovation show. Peel a layer back, and hosts John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin show how tiny house lovers are living large in small, low-impact spaces. Tiny House Nation is thought-provoking and fun.







n May of 2020, after two months of lockdown, I bought a new iPhone. I deserve this, I rationalized. The world is in crisis, and I should treat myself—plus it’s good for the economy. But I didn’t stop there. I upgraded my Apple Watch and my AirPods. I then augmented my cable package to include 100 more channels. And then things got serious: Amazon. I mentally walked through each room of my house and started a list of “needs.” In the ensuing weeks, I saw Amazon drivers more regularly than family members. But was I happier? That is the central question filmmakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus ask in their Netflix documentary The Minimalists: Less Is Now. In a scant 53 minutes, they make a compelling argument for scaling back on material goods. It couldn’t be timelier. According to a Brookings Institution report, the global pandemic only slightly curbed our spending in 2020, as compared to the year before. Collectively, Americans spent $12.5 trillion last year on durable and nondurable goods and services. And given how much of our time is spent online, this should come as no surprise. Search engines and social media sites track our activities and habits, hoping to funnel us to e-commerce sites to spend money. And with Amazon at our fingertips, overspending is as easy as the click of a button. The filmmakers assert that our need to acquire and consume has left our culture wanting for what truly matters: community, clarity of thought, and simplicity. And they’re not alone: Peppered throughout the documentary is perspective from experts and fellow minimalists about the dangers of cocooning oneself with material goods. For these minimalists, amassing things meant security. But it began to suffocate them. Only when they sold or donated all but the essentials could they really breathe. Millburn and Nicodemus, friends and creative partners for decades, shepherd viewers through the narrative, but they bite off more than they can chew here: 53 minutes isn’t a big enough canvas for a subject of this size. Still, the film succeeds in asking its audience a sobering question: Do we own our things or is it the other way around? TV-14 • Language.


HAVE A FAVORITE CULTURE ITEM YOU WANT US TO REVIEW? Let us know about it: MagazineEditors@FranciscanMedia.org


YouTube his indie documentary by Ryland Pearson-McManus looks at the freegan movement in Australia— those who dumpster dive for discarded food and live off supermarket waste. The film is a raw and aweinspiring look at a fringe wing of the environmental movement.


NO IMPACT MAN Amazon Prime


eleased in 2009, this documentary shows how Colin Beavan, his then-wife, Michelle, and their young daughter lived for a year in New York City with no impact on the environment. This funny and flawed family shows us the joys and struggles of living with less.

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 41


By Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP



The Song of Bernadette (1943) The Color Purple (1985) Emma. (2020) The Secret Garden (2020) From Prada to Nada (2011)


WANT MORE? Visit our website: StAnthonyMessenger.org


ost Catholics know the story about the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 to St. Juan Diego (Guillermo Iván) in what is now Mexico City. This film begins in the present day. John (also played by Iván) is a journalist who meets Mary (Kimberley Aria Peterson) when he is researching in the library, and they soon marry. But he resists when his editor, Mr. Dominguez (Rudy Miera), assigns him a story about Mexican identity and beliefs. He suggests that John attend a class with Father Xavier Escalada (Glenn Craley), who is speaking about Our Lady of Guadalupe. John’s wife drops him off on the way to her baby shower. Then something happens that changes everything. The film goes back 500 years to the village where Juan Diego lives with his wife and uncle before they are baptized and receive Christian names. The people struggle against the oppression of the conquistadors, but when the Franciscan missionaries arrive and teach people about Jesus and the Gospels, they are baptized. When Juan Diego’s uncle becomes ill, he goes for medicine by way of the hill of Tepeyac. There, a beautiful lady (Paola Baldion) appears to him. She asks him to go to the bishop and request that a chapel be built there in her honor so that she may help the people in their time of need. Juan Diego, believing himself unworthy, doesn’t go to the

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bishop right away. He takes a different route, but the lady is there. When he finally sees the bishop, he asks for a sign. The lady is the mother of Jesus, and she gives Juan Diego a sign that is still with us today. It is always challenging for filmmakers to present the Blessed Mother in a movie—and even more difficult for an actress to play her. But the portrayal here is convincing without being sentimental. Choosing to go back and forth with parallel story lines separated by centuries to frame the narrative is not new, but here it is given fresh expression by director Pedro Brenner and cowriter Seann Dougherty. Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful tribute to the mother of God, the faith of the Mexican people, and all who honor Our Lady of Guadalupe as a patroness of life. Not yet rated • Some fighting and mistreatment of people.


Sister Rose’s



Sister Rose is a Daughter of St. Paul and the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies. She has been the award-winning film columnist for St. Anthony Messenger since 2003 and is the author of several books on Scripture and film, as well as media literacy education.






he film opens with teen Will Hawkins (Kevin Quinn) running from the cops—again. When he goes to family court, a social worker, Kristin (Sherri Shepherd), suggests that a week away at camp with her and her son, George (Jahbril Cook), might be just the thing. Will resists but decides it’s better than a group home. On the bus to camp, Will is genuinely shocked to find out from George that they are going to a church camp. He feels out of place, but his fears are assuaged when he meets Avery (Bailee Madison), the prettiest girl at camp. But Will soon learns she is also the camp owner’s daughter. The premise of this teen Christian musical will appeal to young viewers and their parents. There are numerous songs and energetic dance numbers with contributions from Amy Grant (who plays a camp counselor) and Michael W. Smith, among others. Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman plays a lifeguard and contributes to the soundtrack too. Most of the key actors got their start on Disney Channel and will be familiar to younger audiences. A plus for parents is that the kids, even when romping in the lake, dress modestly, and the romance is very PG. At first, I thought A Week Away was corny. But as the story unfolds and Will is forced to grow up and tell the truth, it becomes more complex—though it takes more than a week to change a life. The cast is racially diverse, talented, and engaging. The film is directed by Roman White and written and produced by Alan Powell. It is the first faith-based family film produced by Netflix.

A-2, Not yet rated • References to car theft. Catholic News Service Media Review Office gives these ratings. A-1 General patronage

A-2 Adults and adolescents

A-3 Adults

L Limited adult audience

O Morally offensive

his film is based on the true story of how Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, came to be. Dr. Bernard Nathanson (Nick Loeb) opens the story of how he came to favor abortion and eventually become the nation’s leading abortion provider. He teams up with writer and political activist Lawrence Lader (Jamie Kennedy), who becomes a champion of abortion rights. After thousands of abortions and becoming very wealthy from his clinics, Dr. Nathanson realizes what he has done when sonograms become available. But the real moment is when he reassembles the parts of a baby he has aborted, as doctors are required to do. He is baptized a Catholic and writes the book The Silent Scream. Documentary footage of a very graphic abortion is included at the end of Roe v. Wade. Stacey Dash plays Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She is portrayed as the pro-life counterpart to the abortion doctors, but I thought the film might have been more engaging from her perspective. Roe v. Wade has a low-budget quality to it, and the acting is not very polished. A limited series may have been a better medium to tell this story fully. The film’s assertions are fact-checked on its website, but the statistics at the end of the film are dated.

Not yet rated, PG-13 • Contains graphic images of aborted fetuses.

Source: USCCB.org/movies

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 43


By Susan Hines-Brigger

A Life Adrift

Susan Hines-Brigger

E-MAIL: CatholicFamily@ FranciscanMedia.org MAIL: Faith & Family 28 W. Liberty St. Cincinnati, OH 45202


WANT MORE? VISIT: FranciscanMedia.org/ faith-and-family

his month, millions of people in the United States will mark May 9 by celebrating Mother’s Day. According to reports, last year people spent a record $25 billion— yes, billion—on Mother’s Day. I, however, won’t be one of them. I haven’t been since 2013, when my mom died. And then next month, people will celebrate their dads on Father’s Day. Again, I won’t be one of them. That is because last year, in the midst of the pandemic, my dad passed away. As I sat and held his hand on the day he died, I felt the sense of my place in life slowly slipping away along with him. In the days that followed, I found myself struggling with my new reality. I must admit that the word orphan drifted into my mind more than once. You see, after my mom died, even though I felt lost, I was still able to find comfort in the fact that I could reach out and touch one of the two people who were always my anchors in life. But then last July, when my dad died, he took that last connection with him. The two people who knew me better than anyone else in this world were gone, and I found myself in a whole new world. Suddenly, I was no longer a part of the sandwich generation. I was done seeking ways to balance caring for parents and children at the same time. I could no longer connect with friends over the challenges and questions that arise when dealing with aging parents. I would listen to people complain about the demands of their parents and find myself angry, wishing I still had the luxury of being able to have things to complain about. I was realizing that half a sandwich just doesn’t seem very fulfilling.

44 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org


But there was still the other side—my kids. People would always remind me of that. “You still have your kids,” they would say when I mentioned no longer having my parents—as if that would make it all better. And while that was true, even that side of the sandwich was beginning to crumble. The kids are getting older and starting to spread their wings and head out on their own. In fact, just two weeks after packing up my dad’s room at the nursing home, I found myself doing the same thing in my son’s room to prepare for his move to college in Arizona. And then seven months later, we did it again when my oldest daughter, Maddie, moved to Florida. Suddenly, two more tethers in my life had come undone, and I felt myself floating a little farther into the open sea of the unknown. Repeatedly I would tell myself: “This is how it’s supposed to be. We raise our children, get them ready to go out on their own, and then we let them go.” It has now become my mantra. THE JOURNEY GOES ON

Life is ever-changing. Before we know it, we are saying goodbye to people we never wanted to. The kids who used to make us cards with crayon-drawn hearts and presents with lots of glitter set off on their own adventures. And days like Mother’s Day carry with them an extra tinge of sadness. We will feel adrift, lost in a sea of the unknown, struggling to see the light on the horizon. But we will have faith and float along, reminding ourselves that this is how it’s supposed to go.


Susan welcomes your comments and suggestions!



Susan has worked at St. Anthony Messenger for 26 years and is an executive editor. She and her husband, Mark, are the proud parents of four kids—Maddie, Alex, Riley, and Kacey. Aside from her family, her loves are Disney, traveling, and sports.




fter reading Susan’s column on the opposite page, I thought of how people would tell her that, even though she lost her parents, “You still have your kids.” It made me think of people always asking me, “Why are you not married and have no kids?” Because of that, I, too, have trouble with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I am blessed to still have my mom with me. We are very close and talk every day, sometimes twice. She taught me grace, forgiveness, and patience all while keeping daily tasks lighthearted and joyous—things I planned to pass on to my children. But, apparently, having children was not part of God’s plan for me. It is a painful reality that I struggle with regularly and especially during the month of May. Everywhere I look, I am reminded that I was not able to experience the joys of motherhood, I was unable to give my parents grandchildren, my brothers are not uncles, and I don’t have my next generation. ANOTHER BLOW

With Father’s Day on the heels of Mother’s Day, I feel as if I am being kicked while down. I was Daddy’s little girl. He would always say, “I had four sons and one precious.” We spent hours together. He taught me woodworking, construction, gardening, car maintenance, fishing, and water skiing, just to name a few. In 2006, my dad and I fought cancer together. His cancer took his life. My cancer changed mine. Prior to 2006, I was still hopeful that falling in love and children were going to be part of my path. Another series of unfortunate medical events sealed the deal of not having kids. More than heartbroken, I was devastated. Up until then, I held on to dreams of a basketball-shaped belly, a baby shower with silly games, first steps, the terror of the teenage years, and the names for my kids that I had been secretly holding on to but would never need.


I talk to God about all these feelings and repeatedly ask: Was it my fault or was it always part of your plan? What should I do now? Should I volunteer? Mary Catherine Kozusko Foster? Adopt? I know there are many options and more importantly a great need. I have love to give, and there are many kids who are in desperate need of a loving home. Is that what I am supposed to do? It gets confusing, overwhelming, and scary. And then, true to form, God answers me. When I was younger, I made a string of bad choices with men. One of them had an 8-year-old son who lived with us. I did my best to be a friend and my best version of a motherly figure. Recently, he sent me a message through social media and, after more than 25 years, we spoke. He told me that he had finally cut ties with his dad, leaving behind all the abuse that he had endured. He was going to break the cycle for his own family, he told me. If it wasn’t for me and how I treated him, he said, as well as what he saw as I interacted with my own family, he would have never known healthy love. The simple gestures I did made an impact. I never knew God used social media! Do I have all the answers for my next steps? No, but I do have one answer and that is that I am good enough. Not being a biological mother is no fault of mine. It is simply part of my story, and within that story are tidbits of knowledge and wisdom that come from God. It is my job to take what I have learned through my trials and tribulations and the goodness of my loving mom and caring dad and share it with others, whether that is through volunteering, adoption, or anything in between. I can be motherly to anyone I come in contact with. Is it the same as giving birth? No. But the love is real and just as powerful. —Mary Catherine Kozusko


These scenes may seem alike to you, But there are changes in the two. So look and see if you can name Eight ways in which they’re not the same. (Answers below)



Go online to order: Shop.FranciscanMedia.org For ONLY $3.99 Use Code: SAMPETE ANSWERS to PETE & REPEAT: 1) A branch in the tree is gone. 2) There is another row of plantings. 3) The handle of the watering can is now attached. 4) A cloud has disappeared. 5) The row of crops closest to Pete is wider. 6) The dip in the cloud on the right is gone. 7) The spout of the watering can is bigger. 8) Pete’s hair in the front is shorter.




reflect | pray | act

By Shannon K. Evans

Prayer and Motherhood

Shannon K. Evans

hen I first became a mom, I was advised by older women to wake up before my kids in order to have time for a cup of coffee and prayer. Unfortunately, my son didn’t get the memo. He slept fitfully; therefore, I did too. It was all I could do to stumble out of bed a few minutes after hearing his voice in the morning—let alone a half hour sooner. By the time he slept through the night and I saw a glimmer of hope for something of a schedule, I got pregnant, and my sleep patterns plummeted from the hormones and physical discomfort. Once the baby was born, I woke to breastfeed him several times in the night. When he weaned, I got pregnant again, and the cycle continued. Perhaps “wake up before your kids” is advice that works for moms of older children and teens, but for those of us in the throes of the tiniest years, it is simply impossible. For a long time, I was frustrated by the impossibility of prayer. But eventually I came to realize that raising my children wasn’t actually keeping me from daily prayer; it was asking me to think outside the box about what

46 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org

prayer could be. I learned that St. Francis prayed by simply being in nature. I learned that St. Ignatius found God in all things. Did I have to be sitting on my couch in silence with an open Bible or devotional book to be praying? Must I be physically in church observing Eucharistic adoration? What constituted prayer, anyway? When I began to ask those questions, I could see that I had developed ways of encountering God during my everyday life without even thinking of them as prayer. In the bustle of caring for small children, spiritual habits had formed that I hadn’t credited to God; yet these habits renewed my spirit, granted me fresh perspective, and helped me feel the divine presence again. If that’s not prayer, what is? A MOTHER AND A CHILD

When I pushed the stroller around the neighborhood while the babies were silenced by the surrounding birds and trees, I was soaking in the calming presence of God. When I sat still in the backyard watching my children play, I was making space in my heart for gratitude





WANT MORE? Check out our daily online prayer resource, Pause+Pray: FranciscanMedia.org/ pausepray



A frequent contributor to St. Anthony Messenger, Shannon K. Evans is also the author of the forthcoming book Rewilding Motherhood. As a mother of five, she wrestles daily with the dual callings of contemplation and parenting. You can find her reflections on both Instagram @shannonevans and her website, ShannonKEvans.com.

and thanksgiving rather than busyness and complaining. When I snuck away to yoga class, I was attuning myself to listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit through the vessel of my body. When I wrote essays or devotional reflections, I was inviting God to help me make sense of my world and my place within it. In the past, self-imposed feelings of guilt for not doing “enough” spiritually had only kept me stuck in the same despondent patterns. But the realization that I actually had found ways to make prayer work for me in this tight season of life was an empowering one, and it made me want to seek out more ways to do it. I think the same is true for most moms. It’s hard to dig ourselves out of the hole of spiritual shame, but if we can affirm our strengths rather than fixate on our failings, we find we have more energy to go even further. Thomas Merton once wrote to God, “I believe the desire to please you does, in fact, please you.” That is wisdom every young mom needs to hear. Once we recognize our own efforts for what they are, we can be more

intentional about securing them as habits. For instance, since I noticed that I naturally pray while going on walks with the kids in a stroller, I can make that a part of my daily routine, even down to the route and time. If my children tend to happily play outside at lunch, I can identify that as a time to bring a devotional book to the lawn chair and sneak in 15 minutes of prayer. One mom I know lets her kids have regularly scheduled screen time first thing in the morning so she can start her day alone with God. Everyone who has small children knows it’s impossible to keep a strict schedule every day. Interruptions will arise or something will go wrong. Missing your prayer routine here and there won’t hurt anything, but when we start neglecting it for too long, we are likely to feel the effects. When I notice myself becoming listless, despondent, or grumpy, it’s usually because I have lost the centering force of my prayer life, and I know it’s time to try again. Luckily there is no shame in that because that’s part of being a child of God. And how good it feels to be both a mother and a child.

CREATING A NEW RHYTHM Dear God: It feels as if I am pulled in every direction—except toward you. I want to spend time with you, and yet my days are unpredictable and messy. Show me how to create a rhythm of prayer by speaking to me in the ways I can best hear you. Amen.


Experiment with prayer. When it comes to different styles of prayer, the possibilities are as varied as the people who practice them. Perhaps traditional forms work well for you. If not, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Your prayer time might include pushing a stroller, writing poetry while your children play, or finding time for solitary hikes.




Be consistent. Identify the best time of day for prayer and commit to doing it then as often as possible. That way, even if you miss one day, you know how to get back on track the next.

StAnthonyMessenger.org | May 2021 • 47


Mother: the most beautiful word on the lips of mankind.

Mother’s Day is May 9, 2021. 48 • May 2021 | StAnthonyMessenger.org


—Kahlil Gibran

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