Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cardinal Dolan on hurricane recovery: 'People are heroic and generous'

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was on Fox News earlier today talking about the "heroic and generous" spirit of New Yorkers in the wake of the disaster caused by Hurricane Sandy. Click the link below to view the interview. (Embed code isn't working. Sorry folks.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Everyday Divine: The Eye of the Storm

A mild storm in upstate New York
Although New York's Capital Region was spared any serious weather issues due to Hurricane Sandy, I have lots of family and friends facing really difficult times ahead. No power, trees down, houses damaged. Today I'm sending out prayers to all of them and everyone else whose lives have been turned upside down by the storm.

So often, when things like this happen, we find ourselves questioning. Why? Why here? Why me? Why not me? All of that made me think of a passage from my new book, so I thought I'd share it here today even though my book will not be released until one week from now.

Excerpted from Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, Chapter 6:

The recent spate of unusual weather across the country and around the world -- tornadoes in unlikely places, blizzards where it should be warm and heat where there should be blizzards, hail and wind and earthquakes -- serves to highlight the less-beautiful and more-dangerous aspects of God’s creation.

Why would God allow such violent and frightening elements into a universe he set in motion? Why not maintain a placid natural world where everything works for humanity’s benefit?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Guided by Grace: My debut as TV co-host

Our lovely logo
If you have power tonight, you can catch my cable TV debut on "Guided by Grace," a new 30-minute show from Telecare featuring yours truly as one of four co-hosts.

Tonight's show, which focuses on role models, will air at 8:30 p.m EST on Cablevision Channel 29 (Nassau/Suffolk) and Channel 137 (other areas) or on FiOS Channel 296. If you are outside the New York-New Jersey region, you can watch the show via livestreaming on
Each week the show will air at multiple times: Mondays at 8:30 p.m.; Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.; and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

I wrote about the strange but exciting experience of moving out from behind my faceless byline and in front of the television cameras in my newest Life Lines column. Normally I don't post that until after it appears in print, but it seemed to make sense to get it out there now. So here you go...

Me with my new friends and fabulous co-hosts

It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks, or at least you can try, and I’m living proof. After almost 30 years of being a faceless byline in newspapers, books, and magazines, I am going in front of the cameras. Not my favorite thing in the world. Just ask Dennis, who is forever trying to get me to appear in family videos and to stop deleting all the digital photos of myself.

I’m throwing off my fears and doubts, and, trust me, there were many, and joining an awesome group of women as a co-host of “Guided by Grace,” a new cable show aimed at Catholic women, on Telecare, which is based in the Rockville Centre Diocese but airs throughout the tri-state area and beyond.

We recently taped our first three shows, an experience that left me almost paralyzed with worry at first but slowly unfolded into a warm, witty, and wonderful exchange, thanks to the top-notch team at Telecare and the three women I am blessed now to call my friends and colleagues.

None of us knew each other when we were first hand-picked by Telecare and thrown together for a mock show. But within hours, we clicked. When I came home from a daylong visit that included a mini “retreat” and a tech rehearsal, my daughter Olivia asked, “What was the best part?” I think she figured I’d say being in the spotlight was fun, or sitting in make-up while someone fussed over me, or having a set and coffee mugs designed just for us. But without hesitation, I answered, “My co-hosts.”

I look at the unexpected nature of this opportunity, how it landed in my lap without warning, and I know it was the Spirit at work and that the greatest gift of this show will be the new relationship that is forming among the women who share the stage with me.  We are from different backgrounds, of different ages, and different interests, but our common bond of faith creates a powerful dynamic that is evident both on and off the set. Plus they’re all really funny and fun to be around.

There’s Sister Meghan McArdle, an Ursuline Sister of Tildonk who teaches theology at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset; Allison O’Brien, director of the Respect Life Office for the Rockville Centre Diocese; Carly-Anne Gannon, former campus minister at Stony Brook University and current doctoral student at Fordham University; and yours truly, the “foreigner,” coming, as I do, from the Albany Diocese. Once you get us talking, there’s really no stopping us. Unless you’re our producer, Jessica Peters, standing off camera with a big sign that says, “WRAP.”

I’m hoping the blessings I experience on the set of Guided by Grace will translate to the TV sets and computers in your homes. I so want to share what I’ve discovered with you, and hear back from you about issues and concerns that are central to your life. So far we’re tackling the subjects of role models, faithful citizenship, and the Year of Faith, but there’s so much more to come in the weeks and months ahead. 

As I was driving home from our first full day of taping, taking in the beautiful scenery as I made my way from Long Island to upstate New York on a clear autumn afternoon, it occurred to me that life really is a series of surprises, some good, some bad, some scary, and some just totally out of left field.  Our job is to face them all, guided by grace.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The color before the storm

A lone red leaf amid the more dominant yellows and browns.
It's been a weekend of leaves fading and falling fast -- like giant snowflakes, covering the ground quicker than I can rake them away. We seem to have more leaves this year. Impossible, I know, but that's how it feels. Perhaps it's that they're falling earlier than usual. Here are a few last shots of the beautiful colors.

A long shot of the mighty oaks, maples, and poplars that drop more leaves than you can imagine (especially if you don't live in upstate New York).

Still plenty more to fall.
I loved this color combo in the late afternoon sun. Now those leaves are mostly gone.

Neighbor's maple and our Korean dogwood.
 My favorite. I planted this Japanese maple soon after we moved here, just about 13 years ago.

Beautiful in every season.
 We don't just have pretty leaves. We have fantastic fungi.

Hidden mushroom.
Lovely layers.
Here's our autumn decor. It doesn't look quite as picturesque now because the squirrels have eaten about one quarter of the pumpkin and a good chunk of the white gourd. No acorns this year. Not a one. So I guess the little critters are hungry.

Our house is a very, very, very fine house. With two cats, but not in the yard.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Home office, Part II: The circus side of sacred

I'm way back there in the corner to the left.

So when Dennis saw those photos of my home office virtual tour yesterday, he asked the Million Dollar Question: "Where's the cat condo?"
Truth be told, I did get the cat condo in a few photos, but when I was posting, I had way too many photos. So, of course, the cat condo was among the first things to go.

Here, then, is the less flattering view of my office with all the flotsam and jetsam that is part of the deal. I still love it, even with the less-than-Zen nonsense that goes with it. 

The photo above gives you the long view of the basement. My office is at the far end, just past the futon and video game section. But before you get there, you have to run the toy gauntlet.

This is where Barbie lives. She has a much better office.
How many cars does one Barbie need?

To the right of the overflowing toy bin, through that dark door is where the centipede lives.

Foodie Friday returns: Cajun-style collards

I have to start this post by thanking my friend Paula, who gave me her weekly CSA share from Roxbury Farm since she wasn't going to be around to get it this week. I got a nice bag of just-picked collards in the mix and couldn't decide what to do with them. Enter Vegan Planet, an awesome cookbook that even non-vegans will find hard not to love. (I'll have to post the sweet potato black bean enchiladas another week.)

I made these Cajun-style collards in between running kids to and from dance class and horseback riding lessons. Pretty simple and super delicious. Give them a try next time you find some nice collard greens at your local farmer's market or grocery store.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 pounds collard greens
1 Tbls olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1/2 green pepper, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5 oz-ounce can diced tomatoes (they say drained, but I used undrained)
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp file powder (I didn't have this on hand; worked fine without it, although I'm sure it would be much better with it since it is Cajun, after all.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cook the collards in boiling salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop.
2. Saute onion, celery, pepper, garlic in olive oil until softened, about five minutes. Stir in tomatoes, thyme, cayenne, and file. Add collards and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat collards with onion mixture and simmer for about 10 minutes until flavors marry. I threw in a few tablespoons of water because my mixture seemed to be getting too dry, even with undrained tomatoes. Serve hot.

The carnivores in the house had this with smoked pork chops. I simply opted to put this on top of rice with a side of steamed butternut squash. A yummy fall dinner.

What are your favorite fall foods? I'm looking for a great recipe for the head of red cabbage I got in the farm share this week. Any ideas other than slaw?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Take a virtual tour of my office

Main work desk, book posters, assorted goodies
I'm always talking about working from home -- my incense, my candles, my stuff. So I thought today I'd invite you all in for a virtual visit. Now you'll know where I'm coming from.

Deadline/assignment board and feather boa

Bookshelf/sacred space

St. Francis portrait from Subiaco

Quiet corner/prayer bench

Overview of one side
 Some of my favorite items from the shelves of my two bookcases...
Buddha eyes box (incense stored inside)

Prayer shelf

Merton and more

Relics of St. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

VanGogh and Jane de Chantal, an unlikely combo

Random stuff that gives you insights into my wackiness....

Angels and battery candles

Gumby, icons, and prayer books, oh my.

Photos, collages, social justice statements

Newest saint

Hemingway, Tibetan prayer flags, icon of Dorothy Day
If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop by for a real visit so you can smell the incense and hear the music. :-)

Letting my pro-life freak flag fly

Noah in utero
I wrote something yesterday, and before I hit "publish," I questioned whether I wanted to do it at all because I knew the potential fall out from friends who don't see my point of view. And then I said to myself (out loud, because I hate to have to strain to hear what I'm saying), "If you're gonna stand for something, then stand for something." But I knew even as I was hitting the button that it would likely cause me trouble, and then I thought (this time silently), "Who cares?" Because, quite frankly, life is too short to pretend -- whether through outright lies or quiet omission -- that I'm something I'm not.

And so last night I updated my Facebook "political views" from "Don't ask, don't tell" (a nice, safe view if ever there was one) to "Independent, pro-life, vegetarian, traditional Roman Catholic, yogi. You try to figure it out." Why hide who I am, what I am when no one else seems to worry about who their opinions and positions offend or unsettle?

There was a time when I took every opportunity I could to stand up and proclaim my views. College was an endless string of pro-life speeches, essays, philosophy presentations, and debates. And not once did I cower or waver or doubt. But times have changed, and free speech is no longer as free as it once was, but that's a whole other, frightening story that many people aren't willing to admit or, even more shockingly, are willing to accept. And all of that scares me and at the same time emboldens me because in some places young women are being shot for the right just to be educated, no less speak their minds. So how weak would I be if I didn't even have the courage to stand up to the mainstream bullies who hope to silence the rest of us by making us doubt -- or feel embarrassed by -- the truths we know deep in our hearts?

So here I am, making -- in the word's of Mama Cass -- my own kind of music, singing my own special song, even if nobody else sings along. Does that make it any less true for me, any less true in general? No. But in recent years I have let my opinions take a back seat because in the circles I move -- writers, vegetarians, yoga practitioners -- being pro-life isn't the norm and isn't really tolerated. Go figure. Talk about irony. And yet I feel it in a very real way. I go to yoga centers and read conservation magazines always with a sense that I'm an imposter or intruder because my views about life are outside what the so-called naturalists are willing to love or defend.

I am a writer. I am a vegetarian. I am a Roman Catholic. I am a yogi. I am a seeker. I am an open-minded, open-hearted pilgrim on a journey to the transcendent. I believe that life, even at its most vulnerable -- or especially at its most vulnerable -- deserves protection because to do otherwise would be unthinkable. And if even one person stops to think about what I've said and makes a choice on behalf of life, then this post is worth the paper it's not printed on.

I have felt a baby move in my belly. I have stared at an ultrasound and seen nose and toes and thumb shoved in mouth, no different than a newborn. To deny it would be to deny the truth. To acknowledge it and still look the other way is beyond what I can comprehend. There was a time when my pro-choice friends tried to convince me I was wrong, and for the briefest moment, I thought I could do it -- say I was "personally opposed but..." And then I looked in the mirror and knew I would only be lying to myself.

So it's time to let my pro-life freak flag fly once again. What's your truth? Speak it for all to hear, follow your heart, stand for something, even if no one else sings along. Here's Mama Cass to give you a little encouragement along the way:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

'Never be in a hurry...'

Many of you know that I am a huge St. Francis de Sales fan. I am continually amazed by the way this 17th century bishop speaks so profoundly and relevantly to our modern times. I thought I'd share a quote that speaks to me in a particular way these days.

Ponder these words:

"Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset." -- St. Francis de Sales

Now, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and simply be for just two minutes. It will bring a sense of calm to whatever it is you're doing right now. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Centipedes and the sanctity of life

So yesterday I ran downstairs to the unfinished side of my basement to throw in a load of laundry, and there on the cinderblock wall in front of me was the biggest house centipede I’d ever seen. After my initial “ACK!” reaction, I looked for the biggest thing I could find with plans to smash it, but it got away, moving in that creepy way centipedes do, all swervy and fast with legs and antennae going every which way. Down behind the rack of off-season clothes it went, and I made a mental note to shake out my jackets the next time I plan to wear one.

The incident was one that made for fun Facebook fodder. A quick status update about my centipede – nicknamed Randall after the nasty centipede-like character in the movie Monsters Inc. -- garnered 30 comments by the time evening rolled around. What started as silly I-hate-centipede humor turned serious as one friend with Buddhist leanings suggested that those of us in the anti-centipede camp consider why this bug is marked for execution when something, say, as beautiful as a Monarch butterfly would incite quite a different reaction. Should something – even as something as seemingly insignificant as a centipede – die an automatic death simply for being created ugly?

“We make light of killing bugs, but what we're saying is that some of God's creatures deserve to be killed, for no other reason than we find them ugly,” my friend wrote.

We went back and forth a bit, with me acknowledging that, yes, I want to kill giant centipedes because they are creepy and their movements aren’t nearly as endearing as a Monarch butterfly’s might be. But the friend who won’t kill the centipede will eat a hamburger, so that raises other questions, at least in my mind. If meat isn’t “necessary” to a healthy diet, is killing a cow to get dinner ingredients justified any more than killing a bug because it might crawl into our clothes or figuratively under our skin?

All of this got me to thinking less about the centipede and more about another issue that’s been rearing its head in my life recently. Although I’m a vegetarian who abstains from all pork, beef, chicken, and the like, with only occasional servings of seafood, I didn’t choose that path for animal rights reasons. Originally I chose it because my mother died of colon cancer and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid her fate, although I did have issues with factory farming and other cruel – and downright disgusting -- practices within the meat industry. Later, when Olivia, at age 7, decided she didn’t want animals to die for her dinner, I rejoined the vegetarian ranks in solidarity with her. Since that time, I feel myself moving more toward an animal rights stance, although I’m not there yet.

But our vegetarian lifestyle, and Olivia’s increasing interest in animal rights, has led to some long and rather frank conversations lately about things that have surprised and confused my socially aware 12-year-old. I explained to Olivia that she is likely to be an anomaly in most vegetarian and animal rights circles as she grows up. Why? Because she is a pro-life vegetarian like her mama. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind when I told her that many (most?) vegetarians do not share our view. How, she asked, how could it possibly be that someone who doesn’t want to eat a chicken would think it’s okay to allow a baby to be killed while growing inside its mother? She knows already that many people in the animal rights movement would fight tooth and nail to prevent an unborn piglet or panda or calf or eagle from being killed in its mother’s womb, and she honestly couldn’t fathom how anyone who feels the way she does about animals would feel differently about people. The two seem to go together like hand in cruelty-free glove.

It certainly is a contradiction of grand proportions, one that seems to get glossed over in all the conversations about life and creation and preservation and nature. I see it in the magazines I get, the emails I receive, the newsletters from various vegetarian groups that find their way into my mailbox. We will put bumper stickers on our cars to save trees and salamanders and whales, but a bumper sticker that suggests saving babies brands you as a “hater” in this day and age. And that’s not just intolerance meant to intimidate, that’s willful ignorance of a truth once proclaimed by Dr. Seuss’s Horton: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Even a person no bigger than a house centipede.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Manic Monday: Here, there, and everywhere

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I've been showing up on various blogs, on various topics, in various places these days. It's all good, although I feel pulled in a dozen directions. I thought I'd post links to my posts in case something strikes your fancy. Here we go...

Yesterday I was posting at Catholic Parent Network, a new website that serves up suggestions for parents trying to instill the faith in their children. I love the website's subtitle: "Making sure the apple stays close to the tree."

You'll find my post under "Building Blocks: Helping Children Understand Prayer." Click HERE to read that story, but be sure to check out the rest of CPN's offerings, including posts on Catholic apps, countering the culture, raising big families, and specific prayers for the season. CPN also has a Facebook page, so stop by and "like" it when you get a chance.

I'll be posting on CPN now and then, so check back often for other stories on Catholic parenting and more.

Last week, I also made an appearance at Catholic Moms Talk, a new blog featuring Catholic moms and the catechism. It's a special effort as part of the Year of Faith, and I'm honored to be included among a great group of Catholic writing moms. I talked about my experience with the catechism, how it influenced my own faith life, and how I use it in my family and faith formation classes. Click HERE to read "A Catechism on Every Shelf." I'll be over at CMT on a frequent basis throughout the Year of Faith.

And, if you missed my Huffington Post piece to kick off the Year of Faith, click HERE to read "It's Not Your Grandmother's Catechism." I'll be back over at HuffPo next month with a piece to help you navigate the chaotic holiday season, so stay tuned for that. 

Just a reminder: If you are on Facebook, click HERE and "like" my author page. If you are on Twitter, follow me at MaryDTP.

Finally, I will be disabling my "Networked Blogs" feature on Facebook, so if you read the blog through that portal, please be sure to become a "fan" of my author page so you don't miss any blog posts. For those of you who have emailed me to tell me you can't leave comments, that's a Networked Blogs issue, so this will rectify that. As long as you continue to come back through my regular blog address.

More big news to come about new books, new ventures, new speaking engagements, so check back early and often. Have a great week!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Simon Who? First pope revelations

Here's how tonight's dinner conversation went:

Dennis: Who did Jesus tell,"Upon this rock, I will build my Church?"
Olivia: Simon?
Mary: Yes. Simon who?
Chiara: Simon Cowell?
We don't normally focus on this sort of stuff while passing the mashed potatoes, but tonight we went off on a religious education tangent. This answer definitely won the prize.

Friday, October 19, 2012

These are days to remember...

I was driving to and from Noah's film club meeting, Olivia's horseback riding lessons, and Chiara's competition ballet-tap-jazz class yesterday -- and squeezing in some much-needed raking during the "spare" minutes at home in between --when I started to get that overwhelmed, woe-is-me feeling. I was heading down the same road for the third time in less than an hour, wondering how we had reached this tipping point.

As I pulled onto the long gravel road leading to the stables to wait for Olivia's lesson to end, Natalie Merchant started singing "These Are Days," and suddenly I could feel tears forming out of nowhere. Not tears of frustration or desperation, but tears of sudden realization. Tears of gratitude for what I know is a blessing, as difficult as it can sometimes feel.

These are the days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
In a flash I went from fragmented to full, fast-forwarding to some day down the road when my children no longer need me to cart them around or read the stories they make up or take them on a camping trip.

I remember when Noah was a toddler, and people who were parenting teens at the time would tell me to savor the terrible twos because adolescence was going to make it look like a cake walk. And they were right. And now, when I complain about a house cluttered with toys and book bags and school papers, those same parents remind me that in a few short years my house will be quiet and clean, and I will long for the days of clutter and confusion. And I have no doubt they will be right again.

These are days to remember, even when I want to forget.

Here's Natalie to sing us out. Have a great weekend, and remember to savor the moments, even the ones that make you crazy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An independent voter weighs in

So, I'm independent -- politically speaking -- for lots of reasons, mainly because I don't want to be aligned with or beholden to either major party. I chalk it up, in part, to my libra-esque personality. Always weighing, always considering both sides, never wanting to give any side unequivocal anything.

As an independent, I find the goings on related to the current election season beyond comprehension. Although I have strong opinions on this or that policy, I can readily acknowledge that both candidates, even when they don't agree with me, are smart men, good people, politicians with the best interest of our country at heart. Is it really possible that so many people on the extremes of this conversation -- and from what I can see there are lots of people firmly planted on the extremes, at least on Facebook -- are unable to look at the opposition and see decency, common humanity, differences in opinion but sameness at the core? I find it mind boggling, really, that we have come to this place of total disregard and disrespect for those who don't share our exact opinions.

I'm saddened by the fact that I now dread signing onto my Facebook news feed because I know it will be filled with name calling, angry rhetoric, and outright insults. Good people seem to think nothing of pronouncing friends on the opposing side idiots or worse simply for looking at things from a different perspective. How did we get here? Was it social media that led us down this path of intolerance or something else? What does it take to return us to a place where good people can respectfully agree to disagree? Can we ever go back?

I find I refrain from all political commentary, on Facebook in particular, not because I don't have political opinions but because I have come to understand that if I don't hold the "right" political opinions I will be demonized by one side or the other. And, to be honest, I just don't have the energy to waste in an argument with someone who will never see my point of view anyway. So I have opted to keep quiet, even when I have something to say, and that's a very sad commentary on the free speech we hold so dear. Or should hold so dear, even for those who don't agree with us.

I know who I'm voting for in November. That doesn't mean I hate the opposition. It doesn't mean I think everyone who votes for him is an idiot or some other unmentionable name. Every one of us has the power to direct our future. That's the beauty of the voting booth. Go in, pull the lever (or whatever it is we push or pull now), and vote for the candidate of your choice. And, if by some chance your guy loses, have the decency to give the new president the respect he deserves, no matter what his party.

But whatever you do, between now and then, stop assuming everyone who doesn't plan to vote with you is a moron. Tolerance is an empty word if it only applies to people who think like you.

Pitching a tent on sacred ground

My October "Life Lines" column, written more than a month ago but especially timely now given the fact that the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha is this weekend:

I’m not much of a camper. I chalk it up to traumatic Girl Scout experiences as a kid -- think rain, mud, latrine duty, French toast cooked over a coffee can. But as I write this column, I am simultaneously washing my winter sleeping bag in anticipation of a weekend camping retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., with Noah’s Boy Scout troop. And I’m actually looking forward to it.

The Boy Scouts, and Auriesville in particular, have done for me what nothing else has been able to do since my first failed tent experience: They’ve made me want to become a camper, a hiker, an outdoorswoman. That last one might be pushing it a bit, but I can dream.

I’ve done the Auriesville retreat once before. It was my first camp experience since those early Girl Scout days. As I huddled in my little tent on the grounds where Kateri Tekakwitha was born and where Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil, and John LaLande were martyred, I suddenly felt my camping angst recede, replaced by a powerful sense of what it means to be a pilgrim on sacred ground. I could feel the holy history all around me. Frost and dampness and sleeplessness were insignificant in this place where Catholics before me were willing to die for their faith.

So when this year’s retreat was announced, I threw my name in the ring immediately. How could I not during this monumental year, when Kateri Tekakwitha finally becomes a canonized saint? Imagine the special graces we Scout pilgrims will receive as we spend two days walking the ravine, going to the sacrament of reconciliation, attending Mass with our bishop, and soaking ourselves in the powerful stories of faith lived amid persecution just 40 minutes from our home.

Because of these camp experiences, Auriesville has become a special place for me. Every chance I get, I head in that direction. The ravine doesn’t lose its shine just because I’ve walked it a dozen times. The coliseum church doesn’t seem less impressive even though I’ve dusted statues and polished pews there with our parish youth group. The beautiful natural scenery hasn’t lost its awe factor because I’ve seen it through every season year after year. That’s because this isn’t just a campground, and it’s not just a historical site.

This shrine is a living, breathing piece of our faith, a place where we can feel the courage of the people who walked here before us and share the spiritual journey with those who walk with us today. So often we think we need to travel to Rome or the Holy Land or Lourdes to make a true pilgrimage, but the reality is that pilgrim moments, opportunities to experience God through the lives of holy men and woman, are close to home and around every turn.

Tomorrow night, when I join five Scouts and one other adult leader on the grounds of Auriesville (along with other troops from all over the region), I will sit by the flickering light of a campfire, just 50 yards from the ravine where the martyrs suffered, and I’ll imagine what it must have been like to be in this exact spot more than 350 years ago, what it must have been like to believe so fervently and know that those beliefs would come at a very high price. It’s sobering, powerful, inspiring.

Noah, who has done this retreat four times, has been so moved by the experience that he plans to take Isaac as his confirmation name this year. On the surface that choice will probably seem insignificant to others, but I know that his choice comes out of experiences gained in this holy place, which is so much more than a geographical destination in upstate New York. It’s a spiritual destination on the pilgrim path we are all called to walk, even if the farthest we ever travel is deep within our own hearts and souls.

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Let nothing make you afraid...'

Ecstasy of St. Teresa, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome/By Mary DeTurris Poust
Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Avila. I have some of her words of wisdom posted prominently next to my desk at all times:

“Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.” – St. Teresa of Avila

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's Not Your Grandmother's Catechism

To kick off the Year of Faith, which begins today and runs through Nov. 24, 2013, I'm talking catechism over at the Huffington Post religion blog today. Here we go:

It's Not Your Grandmother's Catechism

By Mary DeTurris Poust

Admit it: When you hear the word "catechism," you're eyes start to glaze over, or, if you're of a certain age, you may even have flashbacks to those line drawings of a red-horned devil that once filled the pages of the old Baltimore Catechism. But if you haven't tried the "new" Catechism of the Catholic Church (20 years is new in a Church that moves by the century), you're really missing out on something remarkable.
This is where you can read about adultery, angels and environmentalism all in one place; where you come face to face with all those things you thought knew about the Catholic Church only to realize you didn't really know the whole story after all.

Continue reading HERE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finding patience on the mat -- and off

I always get to the 5:45 a.m. yoga class at least 10 minutes early, better to settle in and spend a little time in silence before the studio fills up. Today was no different, at least not at first. I stretched a bit before closing my eyes and taking up half-lotus, patiently waiting for our teacher to arrive. Soon. Shortly. Any minute now....

Every time the door opened I couldn't resist the urge to open my eyes and see if was the teacher. Nope.  As 5:45  gave way to 5:48, then 5:50, and soon 5:53 (or so, based on my general clock sense), a few of us looked around at each other and shrugged. Surely it's just as easy for the teacher to hit the snooze and oversleep as it is for any one of us. Lord knows I contemplated rolling over this morning before finally throwing back the covers and setting the day in motion.

Funny thing was, we all just sat there on our mats, quietly facing front in the darkness. One or two whispered questions, another got up to look outside, but, for the most part, we sat. We stretched a bit more and then continued to sit. No anger rising, as it might if we were standing in line at Walmart and the person in front realized she didn't have her credit card. (Not that I have any experience with that sort of frustration.) No annoyance coming out in body language or sarcastic commentary, as might be the case in a traffic jam or a doctor's waiting room. Nope, we just sat, perhaps a little confused or resigned, but not impatient or angry.

Finally one student got up and went to ask a Y staff person if he knew what was going on. They phoned the teacher who had, in fact overslept, and she asked if we'd be willing to wait 12 minutes. Most of us said we would. A few left, probably those who had to get to work sooner rather than later. The rest of us stayed, either stretching on our mats or walking the track or treadmills until the teacher showed up. And then we did yoga, just as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

How wish I could say I'd have that same attitude in so many other situations when I find myself growing impatient and frustrated. Why is it I can sit quietly in a darkened Y studio, knowing I may have gotten up at 5 a.m. for no reason at all, and not lose my cool when I lose it so easily at other times? It comes back to the heart of yoga, of course, and why we're all there in the first place. We're not just there to build muscle or lose pounds. We're there to gain peace, to find a balance the normal world cannot give, and even a 20 minute delay in starting isn't going to distract us from our appointed rounds.

So the question is how to translate that mat-based patience into everyday patience. Why can I sit and feel such compassion and kindness toward my yoga teacher -- even at 5:30 a.m. when  I could be warm under my covers -- when I can't muster up even a fraction of that patience for the old lady driving 15 miles per hour down the back road to our house on a busy afternoon or the bank teller who disappears from the drive-in window for what seems like a half hour while I'm waiting to deposit a check?

Maybe it's the deep breathing. Maybe it's the God connection -- because I am always in a state of heightened spiritual awareness at yoga, and even for the ride to and from the Y. Maybe it's the unity I feel with the people around me, each one of us trying to do one small thing to make our lives better, to make ourselves better, not in a selfish way but in a real effort to live up to our true potential as human beings.

"Love is patient," we read in Scripture. Today in our little yoga studio, that verse was palpable, and it reminded me that sometimes -- often -- love is a choice we make.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Year of Faith: Let's get this party started

We're just days away from the start of the Year of Faith, a time of renewal, prayer, and study for Catholics around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI has specifically asked that Catholics spend time studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, as you may recall, I covered page-by-page in my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism.

Here's what the pope had to say on the matter in his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith:

“From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.

“In its very structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the development of the faith right up to the great themes of daily life. On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church."

So I'm pretty psyched to get back on the catechism bandwagon and maybe bring some new folks along with me. Here's what I'll be doing to get the Year of Faith party started:

On Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, at 8:10 a.m. EST, I'll be talking about the catechism and the Year of Faith with Brian Patrick on the Son Rise Morning Show. You can catch that on Sacred Heart Radio 740 AM and 89.5 FM in Cincinnati, Ohio, or you can go to this link and listen online. 

Then on Thursday, Oct. 11, the official start of the Year of Faith as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the catechism and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I'll be kicking off a weekly series here on Not Strictly Spiritual.

Throughout the year, I plan to post some of my favorite catechism-related excerpts. Do you find it hard to believe I could actually have "favorites" from the catechism? It's true. Despite how it looks in its intimidating, almost 1,000-page form, it's actually a super cool read. Of course, if you don't have time for 1,000 pages of catechism, there are always shorter, easier-to-read versions, like, oh, I don't know, the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism, which has an imprimatur, meaning it is all kosher according to the Church.

Finally, I'm happy to tell you that I'll also be sharing posts occasionally throughout the Year of Faith over at Catholic Moms Talk. Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle was nice enough to invite me to join a cast of impressive Catholic moms who will be offering their take on the catechism as it relates to family life. Be sure to visit there regularly to see what we're saying. (I'm sure I'll find a way to let you know when I'm appearing over there.)

There will be more tantalizing catechism goings on in the months ahead, some I'm not at liberty to talk about just yet (doesn't that sound intriguing?), so stay tuned. And make sure you have your catechism or your Complete Idiot's Guide -- or, better yet, both -- on hand for the Year of Faith.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Discovering the Divine in the Everyday

My other new book is nearing its release date, and I realized this morning that I've been kind of quiet about it. I've been so caught up in so many other projects, this one has been slowly and silently creeping up on me, but that doesn't mean it isn't near and dear to my heart. It most definitely is, and here's why.

Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, which will be released on Nov. 6, grew out of my own need and desire to figure out how to fit prayer into my extraordinarily busy life. I simply can't get to daily Mass or Adoration on a frequent (confession: even occasional) basis. It just never seems to happen. I am Rosary-challenged, and I can't seem to string together nine straight days of a novena. Bottom line: Regular, traditional prayer is a constant struggle for me. So I had to come up with more creative ways to include prayer in my everyday life. And that is how "Everyday Divine" was born.

This book -- using stories from my own life, stories from friends and colleagues, advice from the saints, and, yes, traditional prayers and devotions -- covers everything from how to weave prayer into your exercise routine or morning commute to how to find pilgrim moments in the most unlikely places. It was a labor of love, and so many wonderful people -- some you may even know -- shared their own tips and techniques with me. There are practical suggestions, meditations, and more. And if you buy now, and only now, I'll throw in the Ginsu knife. Okay, not really. But, still, buy now. It's available for pre-order at all the usual spots. (Link above takes you to Amazon.)

Here's what Jesuit Father James Martin had to say about my book when he "blurbed" it for the cover:

"I love this book because it's practical.  Too often spirituality is seen as something reserved either for mystics or, well, 'someone else.'  Mary DeTurris Poust shows us that the spiritual life is not removed from your daily life, it is your daily life. Her new book will invite you to try some simple, down-to-earth and accessible ways of encountering God in what you might consider your 'ordinary' life.  But after you've discovered God while you pray, but also while you work, clean, hike, exercise, do yoga and look at a sunset, your life will begin to seem pretty extraordinary indeed.  Because it is." 
-- James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.
Let me give you a brief look at the Table of Contents (with a tiny explanation):

1. Creating Calm amid the Chaos (mindfulness)
2. Building a Spiritual Foundation (prayer essentials)
3. Turning Chores into Spiritual Practice ('Little Way')
4. Bringing the Body into Prayer (exercise)
5. Work of Our Hands (home and office)
6. Sounds and Signs of the Spirit (nature, song, and more)
7. Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude (sacred rhythm of life)
8. Dark Nights and Dry Spells (self-explanatory)
9. Pilgrimage of the Heart (walking the way of faith)
10. All of Life as Prayer (finding God in every moment)

So there you go. More to come in the days ahead as we close in on the release date. Still no decision (on my part) as to whether to do a release signing and party, mainly because I hate to burden my friends with yet another book signing. Especially when another book (Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God) is coming out six weeks after this one. If I do decide to go ahead with a signing party, you'll be the first to know. Okay, maybe the second or third. Well, definitely in the top 100.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Praying in the company of Brother Sun and Sister Moon

Earlier today, I was out in our sun porch doing some gentle yoga in hopes of loosening up a nagging back muscle problem. As I stretched upward to begin a basic sun salutation, I realized I was looking up at my beautiful clay crescent moon, given to me by a good friend many years ago. Then later, as I turned to do a warrior pose, I noticed the clay sun hanging directly opposite. Suddenly all felt right with the world on this Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

I haven't taken time for homegrown yoga or silent prayer lately -- for too many reasons to list, none of them good enough -- so it seemed especially coincidental that I was raising my arms in praise of God's creation under the watchful eyes of Brother Sun and Sister Moon on the feast of the saint who made them famous in poem and prayer.

Even my sun porch sacred space -- a simple wooden tray with a battery-powered candle, incense burner, and a single holy image (rotating depending on my mood or the day) amid dried sunflowers, seeds, and pine cones -- seemed in sync with the feast day. And as I sat down on my meditation cushion in silence, the rain tapping on the roof overhead provided the perfect soundtrack and the towering oaks and pines outside a glorious backdrop.

I found myself smiling, aware that my decision to put aside piles of work for a rare session of yoga and meditation when I really didn't have a minute to spare, must have been a little nudge from the Spirit. Everything in me had been fighting against this yoga prayer practice today, and yet I threw down my mat, lit my incense, shrugged off my back pain, and entered into that beautiful silent space that occurs when mindful physical motion gives way to the stillness of spiritual contemplation.

On top of that, my back is feeling much better, so it was a win-win.

Here's St. Francis' Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon for a little inspiration on this fall night. Why not read it outside under the stars, or clouds?

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they whom death will find doing Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
-- St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Angels among us, messengers from heaven

In honor of today's Feast of the Guardian Angels, I thought I'd post an OSV story I did on angels and their role in our spiritual lives. I'll start you off here and send you there.

The photos at left and below were taken by me two years ago when I was crossing Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome on my way to St. Peter's Basilica.

By Mary DeTurris Poust

Human beings over the centuries and across cultures have long been fascinated with and captivated by angels. We seek their protection and pray for their guidance. We both fear and crave their presence. We put them on necklaces, coffee mugs, mouse pads and more. When it comes to angels, our expressions of love run from the ridiculous to the sublime, inspiring everything from the wildly inappropriate Victoria’s Secret ad campaign to the strikingly beautiful film Wings of Desire.

Although Catholics often begin their prayer connection to angels in childhood, with the sing-song words of the Angel of God prayer --- “Ever this night, be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide” – angels are by no means child’s play. They are complex spiritual beings, often misunderstood by us humans who try to give them features and attributes that are more akin to existence on earth than heaven. Chubby little baby-like cherubs sporting wings and harps cannot begin to do justice to the reality of angels in our midst.

So what exactly are we dealing with here, and what role do angels play in our personal prayer lives?....Continue reading HERE.