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Essex Catholic Community’s Vacation Bible School

Imagine going back in time to the ancient city of Ephesus in what is now Turkey where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is believed to have lived, to learn about her life and mission. 
 
This was the journey taken by 60 youngsters who recently attended the Essex Catholic Community’s Vacation Bible School focused on the holy woman, Mary, the Mother of God. 
 
Each day of the program introduced kindergarten through fifth-graders to themes like “Mary served others” or “Mary said ‘yes’ to God” as well as to some of the modern appearances or apparitions of Mary in Fatima, Spain; Lourdes, France; and Banneux, Belgium. 
 
“I hope the children have learned that Mary was the first and most courageous of Jesus’ disciples,” said John McMahon, faith formation director at Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish and vacation Bible school creator. “What made her so special was her total faith and trust in God and that she always leads us to Jesus.”
 
The week-long camp, a collaboration between Holy Family–St. Lawrence and St. Pius X parishes, concluded with a sacred Mary Procession, followed by a traditional water balloon fight.
 
The equal mix of fun and substantive learning about an aspect of the Christian faith follows a hands-on model of learning where youngsters, for example, can create icons and rosaries while contemplating what Mary’s “thy will be done” means in their own lives. 
 
A team of 35 volunteers, from former campers to retired parishioners, guide participants in the catechesis or direct craft activities, such as making rose-filled mantles like the one impressed with Mary’s image at Guadalupe, Mexico.
 
“This program tries to model active discipleship,” said McMahon, who has directed the 15-year effort.  “Our entire staff grows together in faith alongside the children they are serving. The volunteers are wonderful role models; and the youngsters witness the teens and adults practicing their own faith.”
 
Other themes through the years have included Jesus’ early years of ministry, Holy Week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection and Catholic saints through the centuries. The program aims to give the youngest Catholics access to the history, vocabulary and spiritual learning of the holy men and women who walked and witnessed before them.


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By Marybeth Christie Redmond


 

Saying 'yes' to God

By Deacon Phil Lawson

She said “Yes!”
 
Some 13 years ago, I got down on one knee in the adoration chapel and asked Patty to marry me.
 
After a short pause, (during which the mind tends to operate very quickly!) she said “yes.” My heart soared at that one word response.
 
Some 2,000 years ago, the Angel Gabriel approached Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. At her “yes,” all of heaven rejoiced. In the years since, our Lord has continued to ask for our “yes” to His call or even his proposal to be part of His life and to be His instruments in this world.
 
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to the three shepherd children in Fatima. And when she appeared, for what did she ask? For their “yes” to being part of God’s plan.  “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?” To which they said, “Yes.” And no doubt Our Lady smiled. For these precious three children, had echoed her own “yes” so many years before.
 
Being a person of faith, at its root, is simply about saying “yes” to the Lord, which is exactly what Mary and the three shepherd children did. It’s that simple; it’s that difficult! We said “yes” to the Lord at our Baptism, at our First Holy Communion, at our Confirmation. We say “yes” to the Lord every time we go to Mass. And we say “yes” to the Lord, every time we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and act in accord with the Lord’s will.
 
Pope Francis, commenting on Mary’s “yes,” stated: “Every yes to God creates stories of salvation for us and for others…. God desires to see us and awaits our “yes” (Dec. 8, 2016).
 
What does this look like in terms of evangelization? We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to enter into someone’s life. We say “yes” when we are invited to pray with and for someone. We say “yes” when someone encounters Christ in us. We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to share the joy and beauty of our faith with another (1 Pt 3:15). We say “yes” when we willingly witness the importance of faith in our lives. We say “yes” whenever someone sees the joy of the Gospel in our life and thereby, as Pope Francis shares, create stories of salvation for countless others, as both Mary and the children of Fatima did in their own lives. All of these “yeses” are forms of “evangelization.”
 
There was exultation in heaven when Mary said “yes,” exultation when the children at Fatima said “yes.” And there will be exultation in Heaven as well each time we say “yes” to the Lord’s will.
 
As a final note: The name of the church where I proposed to my wife? St. Mary.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Becoming fully alive: vocational discernment

By Father Jon Schnobrich

What is vocational discernment? Vocation comes from the Latin word, “vocare,” which means, “to call.” God calls each one of us by name to become saints, thereby the first vocation in our lives is the universal call to holiness: “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
 
How do perfection and holiness relate to each other?
 
Let’s understand what our Lord means by “perfect” as that word today is so unfortunately misunderstood. Being perfect is not perfectionism. This call to be perfect comes as the climax in our Lord’s teaching on Christian love:
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:43-48).”
 
Jesus points to the Father’s love, which is without calculation or condition. The Father loves in truth with mercy. He loves sinners and saints alike. To freely conform one’s life, one’s inner attitudes and one’s way of thinking so as to love unconditionally and mercifully is the holiness of life to which our Lord calls all of His disciples without distinction.
 
However, to love like this means to love in the way that God reveals. God is love, which means that we as creatures look to our creator to define love. To love as God loves, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, is to will the good of the other for the other; to desire another to flourish in their being. The perfection to which Jesus calls us relates to holiness of life precisely in love. Love conforms itself to its object; thereby the more we love God who is love, the more we become like God who is love.
 
To put it simply: If God is LOVE, the more we love LOVE, the more we are able to love as LOVE loves.
 
The universal call to holiness is the call from Christ through His Church to become fully who God intended us to be. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Because Christ is holy, we, His body, are called to strive each day for the sanctification of our lives, the integration of all that we are into all that Christ is: “Each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus helping others grow in holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 5, 39).
 
Every disciple is called to perfect love, to love the way the Father loves.
 
Father Schnobrich is vocations director of the Diocese of Burlington.
 

Book review: 'Things My Father Taught Me about Love'

By Lois Rogers
 
In her small book, “Things My Father Taught Me about Love,” author, editor and educator Mary Regina Morrell offers a bouquet of insights on faith, spirituality and family life gleaned from her own garden.
 
Brushed with humor, tenderness and a sense of reverence for the way small and meaningful moments can illuminate life, Morrell’s 54-page book opens the door to her world and bids readers come inside and experience the spiritual gifts of her loving father.
 
Over the years, she has shared these lessons with readers of her award-winning, syndicated column, “Things My Father Taught Me,” which weaves together insights drawn from life as daughter, wife, mother of six and friend to many.
 
In what she calls “just a snippet of our lives, a whirlwind of blessing and loss, joy and heartbreak, grief, frustration and accomplishment,” Morrell gifts us with endearing glimpses into her own life and a reflection of our own.
 
She begins with a simple litany of these gifts which run the gamut from doing good and loving well to laughing often as we embrace the mystery of God.
 
Traveling with her in the all-too-brief pages, we see the possibilities that emerge as “life unfolds while we are not looking.”
 
The landscape Morrell creates winds through the garden nurtured by her father which, in turn, inspired her boundless ability to marvel at God’s creation.
 
It surfaces in a pond full of koi where, leaning over to view the aquatic parade, her own reflection in the water brings to mind the myth of Narcissus – the Greek youth in love with his own image. She notes presciently how this ancient and sometimes fatal character flaw seems sadly to be “flourishing in this day and age.”
 
It’s a vision that ranges from pathos – Morrell writes movingly of the deaths of her parents – to the joy experienced when the ordinary suddenly becomes  extraordinary; the immeasurable gratitude of a friend, for instance, when one of her six sons bestows upon him a huge container of cannoli cream rescued from the shore bakery where he worked as it closed for the winter.
Morrell’s fluid and approachable style is, in itself, a gift to readers. She’s able to weave a considerable body of knowledge into a book filled with basics that everyone can savor.
 
In demand as a speaker and catechetical consultant, she begins each entry with a quote, drawing mostly from Scripture, the saints or Catholic apologists including G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Hardy.
 
Opportunities to pause and enter into prayer and reflection with excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, provide welcome respite in these troubled times.
 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred the Messiness of Life,” captured the essence of this book in his endorsement: “If you want to find God, know love and truly understand these are the same, read this beautiful book. But be prepared to have your heart opened up, to laugh and to cry, to take many deep breaths of awe and wonder and to shout out to the Heavens and to the people in your life, ‘Thank You! Hallelujah!’ What a perfect dose of grace this book is for people of all backgrounds.”
 
“Things My Father Taught Me,” with cover designed by Clara Baumann, is available on Amazon as an e-book.
 
Lois M. Rogers is a long-time journalist and creator of “Keeping the Feast,” an award winning blog on food, faith and family.
 
Mary Morrell is a life-long writer who has served as associate director of religious education in the Diocese of Metuchen; assistant editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; managing editor of The Monitor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, and is author of Angels in High Top Sneakers, Loyola Press. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 
 
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