The Command to Forgive

Forgiveness is one of the most amazing gifts God has given us. Yet, forgiveness is a gift we struggle to bestow on others. 

In the Gospel of Luke today, Jesus teaches His disciples that they should not judge or condemn others, lest they be judged or condemned themselves. Further, He teaches that, if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive.

It’s difficult to forgive others when they hurt us, especially if they’re not actually sorry. Yet, because of the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation, we know how it feels to be forgiven. Even though we may sometimes feel like we are unworthy of forgiveness, God teaches us that that is never true. When we reach out to Him in sorrow, and when we humble ourselves and admit we fell short of following His commandments, He opens His arms and offers us His forgiveness.

That is what He wants us to do for others. 

But even though we know the immense relief of being forgiven, we often find it hard to forgive. Christ teaches that holding on to hurt and anger destroys us. With each bitter thought and each moment spent on withholding forgiveness, we lose a piece of ourselves. The hurt and pain eat us up inside, and resentment keeps us from growing as Christians. God wants more than that for us. 

However, He understands that forgiveness often comes in stages. There is no magic wand we can wave to take away our pain or anger. That is why prayer and listening to His words must be integral parts of our lives. That is why He gives us holy men and women as examples. 

Throughout the Bible, we see beautiful stories of forgiveness. We know the story of the Prodigal Son, whose father rejoiced when he came home. We know that one of the greatest evangelizers in the Bible was first a man who persecuted and murdered Christians. And we know that Christ asked His Father to forgive those who crucified Him.

They were all forgiven!

When we feel that we cannot forgive someone who has wronged us, we must ask God to help us let go of our hurt. And we must keep asking for His help and guidance until we can truly forgive. When we do forgive, we are acting in the person of Christ and giving a precious gift—to both the person who wronged us and to ourselves. That is what God wants for us. That is what will lead us to eternal life with Him.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

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A Transfiguration of Body and Soul

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the story of Christ’s transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Jesus brings his inner circle of followers, Peter, James, and John, with him as He heads up the mountain to pray. Then, before their eyes, Jesus Christ is transfigured, and they behold the glorified Body of Christ, a foreshadowing of the resurrection that is to come. They behold the risen Christ, but they are also given a glimpse of the eternal life they too will receive at the end of time. 

As they watch, Moses and Elijah appear before them. According to Scripture, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, body and soul. And according to one Jewish tradition, Moses was assumed into heaven, body and soul, upon his death. So it’s appropriate that these are the two figures who appear with Christ at the transfiguration. They behold the splendor of the risen Christ and the promise of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. 

But Christ is not a mere mortal whose flesh has been transfigured. He is God made flesh, and as Peter, James, and John witness the transfiguration of Christ, they experience the desire to hold on to this moment. They beg Jesus to permit them to build three tents on the mountain so that they might remain with Jesus Christ, Moses, and Elijah. The Lord is the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) of the Old Testament, the Old Covenant. The three apostles are in the presence of the New Covenant that is to come, and like any spiritual high, they do not want to leave. But Christ instead sends them down the mountain and back into the world. 

We might not have had the opportunity to behold the transfigured or risen Christ in the flesh with our own eyes, but we all know what that spiritual high feels like. We have all had our “mountaintop” experiences of God- on retreat, in Eucharistic adoration, or during the Mass. We have all felt that desire to remain, to rest in the presence of Christ. And the need for rest is real. We need to be spiritually nourished, filled with the Spirit. But we are not meant to remain. We can’t build tents on the mountaintop. We are called to descend, to receive Christ so that we can bring Him out into the world. We are filled up so that we can be emptied out. 

The Eucharist is our fuel. It is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC #1324). It is at the core of our faith and is our mountaintop experience. But we don’t receive Christ to hold Him within us, in the dark recesses of our soul. He comes into us to give us the courage and strength to go out, to be the light of the world. When we receive Him, we are transfigured. Our clothes might not become dazzling white, but our souls do. Our faces might not shine, but hopefully when people look into our faces, they see the face of Christ shining out. Christ was transfigured, and we are all called to be transformed by Christ, to become like Christ ourselves. That is the fundamental Christian mission and the vocation we were given in Baptism. That is our transfiguration. 

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Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.

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Salvific Suffering

Here we are. We’ve made it through the first week and half of Lent already. Have these past ten days been as rough for you as they have for me? UGH! I could share sob stories about countless hours put into renovating our house only to find renters who didn’t pay and then threatened to sue us. I could moan about how tired I am being unexpectedly pregnant at the ripe old age of 41. I could pour out my tears to God about my father, and then my father-in-law being hospitalized with life-threatening illnesses. I could explain to you how I didn’t sleep most of the night because I was worried about my son’s upcoming surgery…. 

There are seasons in life where we definitely feel overwhelmed, as if 20 baseballs were thrown at us all at once and we can’t catch a single one. But the thing is, we ALL go through these seasons. I think it is safe to say that not one of us has floated through life on a cloud without a single hardship. I also think it is safe to say that many of you have suffered far more hardships than I have. 

Lent is a perfect time to embrace these hardships and allow them to unite us ever closer to our Lord. During last weekend’s homily, our Pastor reminded us of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Salvifici Doloris”, regarding salvific suffering.

The encyclical states: “suffering is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders. He says: ‘let it pass from me’, just as Christ says in Gethsemane.” What a profoundly human statement! Just reading this, I exclaim “Yes! God understands me!” It goes on to say: “Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” So although profoundly human, Christ has elevated it to a supernatural level.

“As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation.”  

“In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle writes: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh …. knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus’(58).”

So whether your sufferings be numerous and burdensome, or relatively few and far between, may today’s Scriptures remind us that as long as we follow God’s commands we will be blessed. We suffer now but we will be redeemed!

May the rest of your Lent be full of salvific suffering that unites you more intimately with our Lord. 

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling home improvement projects, finding fun ways to keep her four boys occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for almost 20 years.

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Hope in the Lord

The Psalm today ends with the line “My soul has hoped in the Lord.” What does it mean to have hope?

We use the word hope in many different ways throughout our day. We could hope that the pizza we ordered is delivered on time. We could hope that we get the promotion at work. Or we could hope that the weather cooperates so we can enjoy a day outside.

But the Catholic Church sees hope as more than that. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” It goes on to say: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”

Wow! When we read that, we can’t help but feel encouraged. Hope is so much more than a wish or a desire.

When we put it in a theological perspective, we understand that hope is what will lead us to Christ. Yet we see also that hope requires action on our part. We can’t just hope that we get to heaven and then sit back and not work toward attaining it. Further, we must allow God to work through us. As the Catechism says, hope as a virtue takes that innate desire for happiness and purifies it, or makes it good, so that any resultant desire or action will glorify God, thereby leading us to Him.

It is our hope in Christ that convinces us that He walks with us through our trials, that He carries us in times of extreme difficulty, and that He will never leave us. It is our hope that tells us there is something more than our lives here on earth. It is our hope that tells us that, even though our lives may be complicated or even when we experience personal tragedies, Christ loves us and wants us for all eternity. Imagine that! He wants us! We can’t help but rejoice in that knowledge!

We need this hope today! Divisions within the country and even divisions within the Church can drain us. Like a dried-out sponge that needs liquid to fulfill its sponge-like nature, we crave a nourishment that will enliven us and make us new. That nourishment is our Lord.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

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Persistence In Prayer

We hear in today’s reading and Gospel about the importance of not just prayer, but persistence in prayer. Queen Esther spends the day praying to God for help in freeing her enslaved people, the Jews.  She is described as being in “mortal anguish” as she lay on the ground begging God to give her the right words. This passage is just the beginning of a much longer prayer but in it we see elements of a perfect prayer. She begins by praising and blessing God. She knows he is the God of her forefathers and that he answers prayers. She acknowledges – twice – that she is alone and dependent on God. She approaches him with humility and faith in his good will. 

Then she asks God for what she desires – help in saving her people from death. Her husband, the king and his chief minister were planning to kill all the Jews in the empire. Being Jewish herself, Esther couldn’t let this happen and knew she was in a position to help but she didn’t know how. So she turned to God fully believing that as he had saved the Jews in the past, he would do so again. She knew that it would be him working through her that would save them.

Today’s Gospel follows the theme of persistence in prayer. Jesus exhorts us to ask, seek, and knock. He assures us we will receive and draws the parallel of God as our father. If we as sinful people, would grant our own children’s request, so much more will the perfect Almighty Father give good things to us. Jesus assures us all we need to do is ask him. 

We can be bold in approaching the Father because Jesus came to earth to restore our broken relationship with God. He is the door to our Father; he is the Way. God is not an unreachable deity in the sky who sits dispassionately in judgment. Rather he is a loving Father who desires good for us. Does this mean we can ask for and receive a money tree for our backyard or anything else equally silly? No. What it means is that we can go to Him in prayer, praising him, thanking him, and knowing he sees us and hears us. With our faithful hearts we believe that while we may not get what we think we want, we will get what God knows we need and that is always perfect. 

We are blessed to be the children of a Father who will not be outdone in generosity. When we go to him, whether it is in sorrow, fear, confusion, or anxiety, we are assured that he is with us and will give us what we need to continue to grow more in love with him. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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The Thought Of Losing Me

“At the judgment,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them….(T)he men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it.” Why will “this generation” be condemned? Because they will not accept him as their salvation! The people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba were open to the truth, and so, even though they were not part of the Chosen People, they accepted the wisdom of their God. They recognized Truth when they heard it.

Will they really “condemn” others? Not in the sense of exercising the power of judgment against them (this belongs to Christ alone), but only in the sense that their actions and choices will be seen to be superior to the actions and choices of “the Jews” of Jesus’ time, according to Venerable Bede.

Jesus is again pleading with the people to see and accept the Truth that he has come to proclaim, so he points to familiar events of the past to say, “Even THESE people recognized and were open to the Truth – these Gentiles! Surely, you are in a better position to choose rightly than they were!” And he seems to give a little “clue” that will make sense to them later, if they dare to consider it after the Resurrection: Just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale (during which time he would be presumed dead) and came out alive, so Jesus will be killed and spend three days in the earth and emerge alive and glorified. Will they accept him then?

We might take these words of Jesus to prayer and ask him to show us any hidden or subtle resistance we have to accepting Him fully. Lent is the time set aside each year when we examine our hearts more thoroughly, and ask for the grace to see what obstacles we may yet have to God’s Truth and saving action in our lives.

What distractions do I allow to keep me from spending more time with Jesus?

What am I still striving for, except Jesus?

What do I think I need to remain safe and happy, beyond Jesus?

Where am I still afraid to surrender fully to Jesus?

What do I think I need to do to become my best self, besides Jesus?

Lent is a time to appreciate again, anew, aright, that the overwhelming love that Jesus has for me drove him all the way to the Cross – because he knew that without the Cross, I could not find joy or security or peace, and I could not be with him forever! It is the thought of losing me that kept him going through his long Passion. The thought of losing HIM should keep me going through the little self-denials of Lent.

Let’s let go of all that is not valuable this Lent, so that our hands are free to embrace our Savior fully.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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The Perfect Prayer

In the First Reading we hear, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it” Isaiah 55:11. This verse is reassuring. It reminds me that God always has a plan and a purpose, and nothing is wasted. I think this is one reason why it’s necessary to know God’s word. Scripture is full of truth, beauty and goodness. When we know the Word, we know Truth. 

The Gospel gives us the prayer Jesus taught. How often do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? It is part of liturgies, of other prayers, and it may be one of the first prayers we learned as children. Jesus taught it to his disciples to remind them that prayer, to be effective, is best when it is sincere. Long winded prayers which attract attention are not God is looking for from us. I think about this also when I am praying with a group and ask if anyone has prayer intentions. Some people give you so much information about the person and situation that I get more wrapped up in the story than the prayer needed. I tend to be more of a minimalist, a first name and short request, relying on the fact that Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

And what about the prayer itself? It really does cover all our needs. Notice though, before it gets to “me” we give honor and glory to God. We pray for the coming of his kingdom. Then we pray for ourselves, for our physical and spiritual well-being. Of course, Jesus would give us the perfect prayer. Now it is up to us to make good use of it. Sometimes when we pray the same prayer repeatedly, it becomes words that come out of our mouth without any thought of meaning or intention. 

Today might be a good day to slow down and pray the Our Father slowly. Taking time with each phrase to pray for specific intentions. For example: Our Father (thank you for being the perfect Father, help me to love and care for others as you do), who art in heaven (I give you glory Lord) hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come (may all people come to know that you are God, who made them and wants their good), they will be done (Father, I want to do your will, guide me today to follow you). I think you get the idea. If this is not appealing to you, then simply slow down, carefully enunciate the words so that you hear them, and they lift your heart and mind to God. After all, isn’t that what prayer is?

Just as God’s word fulfills the purpose it is meant, our prayers, said in faith in trust, fulfill their purpose.

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Deanna G. Bartalini, MEd, MPS, is a Catholic educator, writer, speaker, and retreat leader. She has served in ministry for over 40 years as a catechist, religious education director, youth minister, liturgical coordinator, stewardship director and Unbound prayer minister. For all of Deanna’s current work go to DeannaBartalini.com. 

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Are You Blessed by Faith?

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers varied from a prophet to John the Baptist. He then asks the question each of us should carefully contemplate our answer to, “But who do you yourselves say that I am?”

Who is Jesus in your life? Simon Peter knows He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Remarkably not by the words of man but through God—from heaven above.  For this proclamation, Jesus responds to Peter, “Blessed are you.” In the Scriptures, we meet others, who were likewise referred to as blessed for believing the revelations of God. At the Visitation, Elizabeth cries out to Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

To the no longer doubting Thomas, Jesus says, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” There seems to be a pattern emerging of how one becomes blessed. It is not through some heroic deed but through faith—the kind that comes from the heart and not through the eyes. I long to be known as blessed, to imitate the trust exemplified in Mary, Peter and Thomas, not superhuman actions but acts of incredible faith.

The author of Hebrews illuminates the meaning of faith, writing, “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen…By faith, we understand that the world has been created by the word of God so that what is seen has not been made out of things that are visible.” Then, one by one, he shares the power of and the remarkable results to be someone living by faith. 

By faith, they received approval from God and his righteousness. By faith, they found heaven and were taken into the presence of God. By faith, they could do the impossible. By faith, they were saved and not condemned. By faith, they were called out of a place and into their inheritance, into the Kingdom of God. Hebrews 11 unfolds blessing after blessing of living your life by faith. Although considered people of old, their legacy is ours as daughters and sons of a Heavenly Father. By faith, we, too, by simply believing, can do great things for the glory of God and have the resolute assurance of the promises of Christ.

How do you answer Jesus’ question?  Who do you say Jesus is? Do you believe what you read in the Gospels? Do you believe the prophets, do you trust what you feel in your heart, laid there by the power of the Holy Spirit? Do we need to be like Thomas and touch Jesus’ wounds, or can we be blessed because we believe, although we do not see? Like Mary, we can choose to believe that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken by the Lord. Lastly, like Peter in today’s Gospel, we too can be blessed by proclaiming with our lips and from our hearts that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.

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Allison Gingras works for WINE: Women In the New Evangelization as National WINE Steward of the Virtual Vineyard. She is a Social Media Consultant for the Diocese of Fall River and CatholicMom.com. She is a writer, speaker, and podcaster, who founded ReconciledToYou.com and developed the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women (OSV).   

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God’s Covenant

Gn 9:8-15 is one of our first introductions to the word “covenant”. The word speaks of God’s promise to us. It is not through our works that we will receive grace, but through God’s goodness. In His covenant to Noah, God vows to make a covenant between Himself and the earth. Is this not a foreshadowing of the ultimate covenant He establishes for us in sending His only begotten Son, God incarnate, to us? 

As we recall in today’s Gospel, Christ came down to live the human experience, both its joys and its sorrows. His forty days in the desert are only the beginning of this great sacrifice. Through Christ, God shows that His love for us surpasses all. In times where we may question “where are you Lord?” we must recall that God is always with us through His beloved Son Christ. How infinitely blessed are we, who, made from dust, can now encounter the joys of eternal salvation! 

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Dr. Alexis Dallara-Marsh is a board-certified neurologist who practices in Bergen County, NJ. She is a wife to her best friend, Akeem, and a mother of two little ones on Earth and two others in heaven above.

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Caught In The Gaze Of Jesus

Who was this “tax collector named Levi” in today’s Gospel? How did he enter into this profession? How many hours had Levi sat at the customs post counting and calculating the taxes he collected? What had he purchased for himself with the wealth that he drew for himself? How many years had gone into establishing his reputation and identity as a tax collector?

Then Jesus comes, probably with his disciples. He “sees” Levi.

What would this be like, to have Jesus really SEE us? Well, it would undoubtedly change us, like it changed Levi. Levi, who had built a life as a collector of taxes, who has established a reputation in the community, who has gathered comfortable wealth to himself, is changed under the gaze of Jesus, so that when Jesus says, “Follow me,” Levi DOES. Levi leaves it all – he leaves everything behind – gets up, and follows Jesus!

It’s worth asking ourselves seriously what we would do in Levi’s sandals. Would we be able to leave everything behind, and go wherever Jesus leads? Could I leave behind my job, my home, whatever I have built up for now and for the future, for the love of God? The few words used by St. Luke to express this scene may make this seem like an easy thing, but there is something profound and phenomenal happening here.  There is a seismic change within Levi, who suddenly knows that the “security” he has established for himself is not secure at all, the comfort he has carved out for himself is not satisfying, the plans he has made for himself are not worth pursuing. When caught in the gaze of Jesus, Levi sees possibilities that he could not see before.

Isn’t this partly what Lent is about? We pray to allow ourselves to be caught in the gaze of Jesus, who is always seeking us and always for  us, so that in his gaze we recognize the needs and yearnings of our own hearts more deeply, and are moved to let go of all our own ideas about our lives. When we are willing to set aside our own agendas and open ourselves fully to God’s Plan for us, we receive the grace to “leave everything behind” and follow him.

Not many of us actually have to leave our whole lives behind and start something new – our families and homes and possessions and jobs are gifts from the Lord. But we can receive the grace to really SEE that everything is a gift and to put all our gifts and talents in service to God’s will for us, rather than our own will for us. Our activity becomes directed to the good of others and God’s glory, rather than our own ideas of comfort and security. We learn to trust in the Providence of God, rather than our own providing.

This is the “newness” in which the Lord invites us to walk this Lent. 

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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