How Lent Came In Winter and Left With Spring

I find it hard to believe that Lent is almost over. Here we are forty-three days in and it seems like yesterday. Tomorrow it comes to a close with the beginning of Triduum. In a couple of days it will be Easter. As Lent began the tight grip of winter was upon us. It seemed like this winter would not end. The snow and ice and cold stayed much longer than usual this year. Perhaps it is age, perhaps it is climate change but winter is harder to handle now than just a few years ago. Severe is the word that comes to mind. Yet with a little more than five weeks going by, Spring has finally come upon us even though winter tried to raise its head one last time earlier today, the Sun and warmth had erased any sign of its stubbornness to tarry longer.

This transfer from winter to spring is a fair description of the journey I have been on with my beloved. This year we decided to do something positive for us, to take a step to make our communication move to a more intimate level. Since one of the focus points for Lent is prayer, we decided we would focus on our prayer life as a couple and to pray together each evening. We chose to pray Evening Prayer each day which involved the praying of a psalm, intercessions and meditating on a passage of scripture. The twist was how the passage related or spoke to us about our relationship. How did we feel about our answer. We did this as our 10+10.

This was a real challenge for us. We found this type of praying difficult for we needed some real time together which meant we did this later than usual. Frequently it took as long as forty minutes. It is hard to stay focused after nine. Imagine a married couple praying together each day. It has been an eye opener for us. For most of our married life prayer has been very simple, grace before meals, rosaries, praying at mass or for special intentions. This was most different. Inviting God to speak to us through his word about our marriage and spend some time in meditation and writing about it and then to share our reactions. My eyes have been opened.

Not every evening was a mountaintop experience, sometimes I just could not get what the passage meant, let alone how it spoke to me about my marriage. My feelings at these times were confused and disappointed in my lack if insight. Other times I was humbled at God’s wisdom and love for us: most of the time I could see we were being challenged to be the best couple we could be.

Communicating this way in prayer has brought us even closer if that is possible. Patience has a new meaning. Do I dare say life is more peaceful? I believe we have found serenity.  Each night our prayer started with “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.” This is like taking the first of the twelve steps. Together we admit to each other our powerlessness and our need for our higher power which through our faith we acknowledge as God to be a part of our life.  Serenity is a good place to be and prayer is the path.  This process is going to stay, maybe not each night but certainly let’s say on one week night. We are in too good a place not to.

Dialogue Question: What is my reaction to praying as a couple? How do I feel about my answer? Enjoy!

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OMG It’s Mardi Gras Already!

Where has the time gone, it seems with all the snow and severe winter weather we have been experiencing that it was just yesterday that Christmas and New Years were here. The winter has been so severe that the Christmas lights are still snow and ice bound in the bushes outside. It hardly seems possible that Lent begins tomorrow a day for ashes and fasting.

With the coming of Lent we tend to re-evaluate where we are. We ask ourselves the usual questions about giving things up or doing something to change our life in a positive way. What will help make me a better version of myself? Often these things we try to do for Lent can be like the resolutions we make for New Year’s: I will do this, go on a diet, stop smoking or giving up chocolate. We can set ourselves up for failing to keep at it because we think about doing things instead of having a goal. Having a goal can set us up for success during Lent.

Consider that we all need goals as we go through life. Without them we are simply going to drift. I don’t know if any of you have ever sailed but think of goals as a centerboard. Without the centerboard, there is no way to control the boat. It is the same way with goals. Goals keep us focused. When we are running the race, our eyes are on the finish. When we identify the goal we can then see what we have to do to achieve it. The focus of Lent should be on Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. These are things that will help us on our journey to be the best person we can be.  Having a goal will help us. As a married couple we want to be the best couple we can be. We ask ourselves; what do we need to do, for the sake of our relationship, to grow closer to each other and to God.

Consider also that if we have to change something to accomplish our goals we can only change ourselves, not our spouse. Remember we are only responsible for our own attitudes and behaviors and if we need to change that is our responsibility. If we are reevaluating for the sake of our relationship any “me” centered attitudes or behaviors need to change to those focused on us and our relationship. It is not an easy task to be the best couple we can be. Trying to live up to the desire God has for our marriage; two people passionately in love, living intimately and responsibly is not easy. We can find ourselves easily falling back into old attitudes. “I am too tired”, or “there is no time”; “I am too busy” keep us from drawing closer to each other. Each of us have to have a willingness to change; to make choices each day to be more focused on our relationship and to make decision to love that will keep our intimacy alive.

This year, my wife and I have decided to set a goal together this year to improve one aspect of our relationship and that is to deepen our couple prayer. Many think prayer is a personal thing, but in the relationship of a husband and wife it is a truly great experience to grow together. We acknowledge that God is definitely a part of our life so we want to deepen our awareness of what he is saying to us.

Starting tomorrow, we are taking our daily dialogue and are going to incorporate it with a deeper level of prayer. Before answering our question we are going to start off by praying Evening Prayer from Give Us This Day. Evening prayer begins with the praying of a Psalm followed by a scripture passage, meditation, the Magnificat, intentions and the Lord ’s Prayer. When we come to the scripture passage we are going to use the Lectio Divina method to trigger our dialogue.

Briefly, the Lectio Divina is a method of prayer in which you read a scripture passage. Reading it slowly at least once for the head and once for the heart, savoring it and listen to that small voice that says this is for you today. Then after reading the passage, ponder it. Take a word or two that struck you, repeat them, and let yourself interact with them. Don’t worry about distractions like memories or thoughts as they are a part of you. Then pray. Give to God what you have discovered. The only goal in this is to be in the presence of God.

It is after this we will write our love letters. The question will always be: What is God saying to me/us in this scripture passage, and how do I feel about that? These scripture passages from evening prayer are usually short.  It is going to take a little extra time but that is what this is all about. Once our dialogue is over we will finish the evening prayer.

This is going to be an interesting journey.

Enjoy!

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How I spent Valentine’s Month

This February should have been called Valentine’s Month or Lovers Month. It certainly was for us.  Each weekend this month we have had weekends filled with love, romance and working on our relationship. During the weekdays time was spent in preparation. Our focus this month has been on our marriage. Married life is all about the unconditional love we have for each other.

The month began really last fall when we had agreed to present a one day enrichment with good friends called Celebrate Marriage on February 1st. It was an awesome start. The next weekend was world Marriage Day and we attended a Lover’s Ball with many friends from the Marriage Encounter community. All of this was just the lead up to the highlight of the month which was to present a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend which began on Valentine’s Day. In the remaining days leading up to Valentine’s Day we focused on us and our relationship making preparations, reviewing our presentations and meeting with our other presenters. Thank God for phone conferences as the weather did all it could to keep us apart with the record snow fall here on the north shore of Long Island. There was so much snow this year and it was the heavy wet kind that everyone was welcoming the chance for a weekend away.  Friday night came, all the distractions got put on hold and we got to meet so many wonderful couples. Our team was tremendous with presentations that were inspiring, thought provoking, gutsy and real. The couples really explored their relationships. That is where the work of the Holy Spirit happens, with the couples. It never ceases to amaze me how transformed in a positive people are by the weekend.  If you have made a weekend you know what I mean. If you haven’t you deserve to find out.

This month of love continued yesterday when we got to present a renewal session for the couples who made the weekend.  Regina and I shared about our weekend. I shared with you that on our original weekend I came to renew the closeness that has been missing between us. I wanted to focus on our communication without all the distractions. I was afraid to share with Regina that how much the distractions of kids, family and job and lack of time together affected me. I saw us drifting apart. Regina shared she came on the weekend here to be with me. She wanted to refocus on us and not everything else that seems to interferes with our lives. Regina shared her desire to make our good marriage stronger than was. She afraid we were coasting. Regina was afraid to share with me she judged I didn’t listen to her and, that her feelings didn’t matter. I added that we hoped that we would regain the closeness we were missing. I wanted the closeness that made me hang on every word she said. I longed for the tenderness and romance I thought we had lost.

When we made our Marriage Encounter weekend, we learned the process of daily dialogue. We had held judgments of being unlovable inside for so long; it was not easy to share them with each other. When we shared our feelings, what we received back from each other was a priceless gift After our weekend, the dreams we had thought impossible to achieve, that had been fading quickly before us were once again bright and were becoming reality.

The effect on our relationship was that we were transformed. We were strengthened in the same way that steel is tempered to make it stronger.  We have been freed from our fears. We are free to be honest and to be accepted as we are. . Imagine what it is like to get to know yourself better and to give that to your spouse and have it happily received. This is my experience since our weekend. We can share feelings, whether they are joy, frustration, peace, turmoil, elation, dejection, wanted, or distant; we trust each other’s unconditional love and acceptance. We have created an environment in our marriage that leads to greater intimacy. We find ourselves hugging more, holding hands when we walk, sitting on the couch and snuggling up to each other, giving each other knowing glances across the table and gently joining hand in prayer.

I was filled with new hopes and dreams about our relationship as a result of our weekend. I felt excited just like when we were first married. It was like unwrapping a present. I liked what we had rediscovered about ourselves; the romance, tenderness and closeness were our stars.  I would make the “Impossible Dream” of being the best couple we could be alive in our marriage by putting into practice what we had learned. I was going to make more time for us and have those romantic nights again like when we were first married. I looked forward to intimate conversations and having fun listening to each other.

I could see the love and passion just as I did when we were first married. To keep these dreams alive in my quest we have our daily dialogue. I saw the value of dialogue. My eyes and more importantly my heart had been opened. It was like I had been in a darkened room and the lights had suddenly come back on; filling me with hope to stay true to our quest to be the best couple we could be.

So for the rest of this “Lover’s Month” that is what we are going to do; in fact we will do it each day forward, follow our quest to be the best couple we can be by looking at one simple question: What is best for our relationship?

Dialogue Question: My strongest feeling today is ________. Describe fully in loving detail.

Enjoy!

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The Kiss

Like a moment

Caught in time

These lovers gently embracing

Arms entwined

Lips together

As one.

How often

My love

I have held your softness

Like this

Cannot be counted

As one.

Like numbering

The stars

Or grains of sand

By the sea

Love runs over

From two

As one.

Overflowing a cup

Graces poured out

Refreshing, blessing

Our spirits in unity

Forever, always we

As one.

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Reflection on St Agnes of Bohemia

Good King Wenceslaus

We know the song how he looked out

Had a sister Agnes

Endowed with virtue

Like her namesake of Rome

Chaste, pure and sacred

A Poor Clare became

Devoting life to service

The poor, the sick, the needy

His favorite carol

The feast of Stephen

A beggar by a fountain

Named for Agnes

Empowered by the Spirit

The King aids the wandering soul

The Lord in our midst

How is it…Why it it..

A thought implanted by a song

Obscure characters from long ago

First heard as a child

Continues at ninety-one

Compelling to compassion

Peace, Joy, Hope and Love…

Faith!

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Yeast

For the past twenty four hours I have been thinking about yeast. Yeast is the stuff that makes bread, bread and beer, beer. I guess you could say that yeast helps to feed us and it can make life interesting. You might ask, why have I focused a day on the subject of this very small organism? Well it came up in the Gospel passage yesterday at the Funeral Mass for my cousin Jane. The passage is from Matthew chapter thirteen: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” That was it. Usually we expect a Gospel passage at Mass to be long but this was short and most of us were surprised and realized something important had be said. It was really profound in its brevity.

What is it that yeast does?  Simply, it changes things. Once mixed with the flour and kneaded thoroughly the dough will expand and can eventually feed others. Without the yeast the mixture would be like glue; surely not a tasteful product. The sugars created by the yeast add a sweetness that makes the eating enjoyable. The yeast causes the wheat to be more than itself.

Jesus spoke in parables because he knew those hearing the stories would be able to relate to them. So how or what does yeast mean to me in my life. Do I influence the world and those around me to be more? In particular am I like yeast to my marriage? Is what I add making us more of a couple?  I am not trying to compare yeast to love here for love is really a verb. Love implies action.  The yeast is the actions I take, listening with my heart, seeing the goodness in my wife, focusing on us instead of me and making decisions to love.  When we add the yeast to our relationship and allow it to do its work, things happen and we are transformed. Our life takes on a sweetness all its own.

Dialogue question: What is the yeast that transforms my life? HDIFAT?

Enjoy!

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Being Thankful

Happy thanksgiving! I have been hearing this constantly the past couple of days. I am grateful for this. The smiling faces of friends and families surely reflect that all of us are trying to adopt an attitude of gratitude for all the gifts we have been given.  I wish every day was like this. It seems counter to all the messages we receive from our consumer driven society.  We are always being told we need more to make our lives meaningful and full of happiness. Haven’t we learned that happiness can’t be bought?  Perhaps, but why do so many of us live in a constant struggle of this? Today I saw on the news people camped out in front of stores opening later today. I for one never thought of having my thanksgiving dinner by tailgating. Is it all to get something first? Come on.

I for one want to live a life focused on being thankful.  Over the past week some items have crossed my path that will help. The first is a prayer card from Father James Martin SJ called “The Daily Examen” which is a prayer popularized by St Ignatius Loyola. It is simply an examination of conscience and step two is to recall two or three things that happened during the day for which I am grateful, savor them and thank God for the gift. This is very much the same thing the Deacon described during his homily at Mass this morning basically picking up on the Project 365 and taking a picture of something each day you are thankful for.

Then next thing that was given to me was a copy of the God Squad from last Saturday where the Rabbi lists what he is thankful for and one of them is Hospice workers. He describes them as angels sent to live among us. I know this firsthand as I am married to a Hospice nurse. My father who was on hospice at the end said this to me, “You know your wife is an angel?” I said, “Yes Dad I know.” Regina is truly an angel and I thank God I am married to her.

The third thing to come up was my horoscope from yesterday. Now people who know me know I place no stock in these things and I deliberately skip over them on the puzzle page in the daily paper.  Yet a good friend who used to baby sit my children said you should read this because it is you.  It said: “You can achieve perfect understanding with loved ones if you listen with your heart as well as your ears.” This is amazing because it is the key to all intimate communication. If you are going to make a decision to love someone it starts with listening with the heart.

I know I am most thankful for in my life: People; my wife, my marriage, family and friends who I have made throughout my life. Perhaps it is summed up in the words of “Wherever You Go” by Gregory Norbet.  “I want to say something to all of you who have become a part of the fabric of my life. The color and texture which you have brought into my being have become a song, and I want to sing it forever.”

Happy Thanksgiving

Dialogue question: Today I am most thankful for______. How do I feel telling you this. Enjoy!

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Thanksgiving Prayer

Tonight my family and I attended what I believe is the 73rd consecutive Interfaith Thanksgiving prayer service in our town, We are so fortunate to live in a community that can come together to praise God and give thanks for all the blessings we have. We were asked to share the following prayer with friends and family. So dear family and friends here it is for you. Enjoy!

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

God, source and giver of all things
we give you thanks on this Thanksgiving
Day for the beauty of the whole of creation.

We give you thanks for the blessings
of family and friends; both those
gathered around this table and those
who are present only in our hearts.

We give you thanks for this food,
prepared by loving hands,
and for the graces you provide to nourish
our bodies, minds, and hearts
so that we might better serve you.

Help us to be faithful stewards
of all that has been given us.
May we reflect that which we have
received to all we meet, especially the less
fortunate in our midst.
Amen.

Please share this Thanksgiving prayer with your family and friends.
Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to all!

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Dialogue Challenge

Announcing the Section 20 #D250 Dialogue Your Way to Passion Challenge! Here’s how it works. The WWME 2014 North American Convention – Houston, Texas has a theme of “Passion”. To help all the lovers in our section who will be attending to prepare, or to support them, we are challenging all Encountered couples and priests to track their Dialogue every day starting this Sunday, November 17th, which is 250 days until the start of the Convention. Look for Facebook and Twitter posts with the hashtag #D250 for reminders, Dialogue questions about Passion, and to post your struggles and successes.

Dialogue question: What am I most passionate about? How do I feel telling you this?

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How I Spent My Summer

When Labor Day comes around each year, it is a sure sign that the summer is almost over and fall will be soon upon us.  Usually one of the first school assignments was to write an essay on “How I spent my summer vacation.”  The short writings were filled with the recounting of baseball, swimming, or sailing as we lived by the shore. Sometimes they contained our fears about the first time going to summer camp. Often the writing would be about someplace special the family had gone to, usually by car but never describing the tedium felt by a child in the back seat looking out a window of a never ending ribbon of endless interstate highway. Yet the excitement of seeing majestic mountain lake would be put down in words for all to read.

This year, now the sixtieth in this life, reflection on what goes on is a regular pastime. It seems fitting to take a moment and reflect on what of significance has gone during this past summer. For those of us who are part of that unknown voiceless group,, those who have been laid off from their jobs and no longer have benefits, each day begins with what now is like a monotonous activity of an insane person doing the same activity each day and expecting a different outcome, a search of eighteen months when the summer began, to find work is a significant activity.  Two and a half hours each days reading and responding to classified ads and internet job boards and the sending of hundreds of resumes by email, fax and the postal service and rarely getting even a response leaves me to wonder if the postings really exist.  The worst of this is when finally getting an interview only to have hopes dashed when the twenty something human resource person notices the gray hair. Has all of this passed me by?  How impersonal it all seems.

When looking at what is really significant in life, it involves our interaction people. What happens with family, friends and community are what we remember most and may affect how we live this life. The most personal interaction in my life is with my darling wife, Regina. Some might say the most significant thing in life this summer was celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary. A milestone to be sure in this day and age but how we got there is more interesting. Some people will find it odd to learn we write love letters each day to each other. We write on a particular area of our relationship and in detail describe how we feel, no judgments or thoughts, just feelings like happy, sad, angry or joyful.  Then we talk about whose was the strongest; only for a few minutes.  Writing a love letter each day makes it very easy to love, honor and cherish. It leads to a lifestyle that is intimate and responsible where the periods of joy are longer and the times of disillusionment and hurt are kept short.  We know that forgiveness is something important not only to give but to ask for.

We were introduced to this on a Marriage Encounter weekend many years ago and after making an anniversary weekend five years ago we were asked to consider being a team couple to present the weekends. Well we said yes. Since then we have done a lot of writing. First we wrote our talks; only to have the subject matter updated last year so they all had to be rewritten. Marriage Encounter is the only marriage enrichment that is constantly updated. Having spent the last year doing a lot of these rewrites where we take our relationship and turn it inside out and back again, we have reached deep into ourselves and our relationship, our feelings and what makes us tick as a couple. So when a chance to present a weekend this summer came up, we jumped at the opportunity.

This brings me to the most significant thing that happened this summer. On this weekend, a new door opened in our relationship. Reaching out to each other in a specific area a whole range of emotions flowed out of our pens in our love letters. Regina’s trust in me to reveal something about herself I don’t think she even realized was a profound gift. Something buried for a lifetime having the dirt and dust brushed off it, like the fossilized bones of some prehistoric animal, can be lifted to the light of day and understood.  I learned something new about my wife after thirty years. A new dimension has been added to the complex person she is, another thread added to the tapestry of who she is I now know.  What could be more significant than that?

Dialogue question: Name and area of our relationship (relatives, children, in-laws, health, etc)in which I need to reach out to you and describe it in detail. How do I feel telling you this?

Enjoy!

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