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Don't give up trying to love God better

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet. … Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”
 
~ Rebecca Harding Davis

 
Passing the ice cream store recently I noticed something unusual – a number of Great Danes standing outside the entrance as if they were waiting in line for a treat. I chuckled at the image of the dogs striding up and resting their big heads on the counter while their owners ordered them a large vanilla cone.
 
Then I recognized the name of a Great Dane rescue organization on the banner hanging from a table nearby and realized it was an adoption event.
 
I haven’t seen a Great Dane in a long time, probably not since my son and daughter-in-law brought one home from a similar organization to their little apartment, where they nursed and nurtured this abandoned, disturbingly skinny Snuffleupagus of Great Danes back to health. He shared apartment space with his counterpart, a feisty little Schnauzer, and two ferrets.
 
Years later my son and his wife would welcome another Great Dane just hours from her being euthanized, to nourish and nurture her, as well, until she was ready to be put up for adoption.
 
No longer in an apartment, this new pony-sized pup had more room to roam, but she was so weak and emaciated from a lack of care, she had trouble walking and was grateful for the generous couch where she could stretch out her body and be showered with attention and affection, plied with high quality food and, eventually, learn to play.
 
Looking at a photo of her gaunt body, I imagined the dogs in Scripture who scavenge under the table for scraps, dropped by the children who were fed first, and best. Fortunately, these two Great Danes no longer had to scavenge for scraps. They thrived under the care of my children, who eventually had children of their own, and who understand that real love provides more than leftovers.
 
It is a lesson suited not only to how we love our pets, our spouses, our children or our friends, but, most importantly, our God.
 
Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He did not say love the Lord in bits in pieces, a little here, a little there, when the mood strikes or when we can find room in our hearts or our lives.
 
Jesus calls us to understand, and the saints remind us, that loving God requires complete abandonment to God’s will -- an acceptance of the joy and struggles, but always with gratitude.
 
That can be a real challenge.
 
St. Francis de Sales pointed out that “many people say to our Lord, ‘I give myself wholly to thee without any reserve,’ but very few actually practice this self-abandonment.”
 
Many of us, perhaps more often than we’d like, fall into that category of people who truly want to serve God, but mostly in an advisory capacity. Still, St. Francis encourages us to not give up trying to love God better. He writes, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so you learn to love God and man by loving. Begin as a mere apprentice and the very power of love will lead you on to become a master of the art.”

--By Mary Morrell
 
 

Mary's mantle

Superman has his red power cape. Elijah wore a cape to manifest his divine authority. Most famously, the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed wearing a cape-like garment known as a mantle, often blue and sometimes adorned with stars, to highlight her extraordinary role in history.
 
In the Church’s oldest Marian prayer we say, “Beneath your mantle we take refuge, O Mother of God.”
 
Medieval artists often depicted Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, with her arms outstretched to reveal a crowd of tiny suppliants huddled in the folds of her mantle. All kinds of people found a place at Mary’s feet – from princes and pious nuns to slaves and peasants.
 
In The Virgin of the Navigators, a Spanish work, Our Lady’s mantle is full enough to envelope a whole armada of ships!
 
Through these paintings, whether they were seeking refuge from pirates or the
plague, medieval women and men expressed their faith in Mary’s motherly protection and powerful intercession.
 
Our Lady’s mantle had a special significance in the New World too. As Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, she assured him, “Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. … Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? … Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
 
Mary explained to Juan Diego that a sanctuary should be built on the hill of Tepeyac so that she could demonstrate her merciful concern for God’s people: “I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection,” she told him. “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
 
The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, was also known for her mantle, a black hooded cape that billowed in the Breton winds and under which she fingered her rosary beads as she traveled on foot seeking alms for the elderly poor to whom she had given a home. Perhaps finding inspiration in the traditional images of Our Lady of Mercy, several artists have portrayed Jeanne Jugan gathering the elderly under her mantle and holding them tightly to her breast.
 
I find solace imagining those I love and care for sheltered in the folds of Mary’s mantle or nestled close to the heart of St. Jeanne Jugan. But I also sense a challenge, and I believe that is why God has inspired me to contemplate these images, which manifest the powerful yet gentle and merciful love of God himself.
 
I believe that God is calling the Church today, and each of us, to open our arms, reach out and draw all those on the peripheries of society into our circle of love. “We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us … stooped down in a gesture of consolation,” our Holy Father once said to consecrated women and men.
 
These words of Pope Francis can motivate all of us. This is how we will be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to the field hospital of today’s world.
 
St. Jeanne Jugan’s feast day is celebrated on Aug. 30, and during these last weeks of summer we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and queenship, as well as her birthday. On these special days let’s ask Our Lady and St. Jeanne Jugan to teach us how to extend a mantle of compassion over wounded souls, creating – and becoming ourselves – sanctuaries of that powerful yet gentle love which animates the heart of Christ.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

By Maggie Maslak
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.
 
But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.
 
“In the U.S., there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.
 
“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.
 
July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality. 
 
The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.
 
Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.
 
While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.
 
Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.
 
And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.
 
In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.
 
“All women – Protestant, Catholic, atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone-free (and conscience-free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.
 
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.
 
Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.
 
“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.
 
However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”
 
Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.
 
“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.
 
Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.
 
The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.
 
New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.
 
In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”
 
“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.
 
In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.
 
Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.
 
With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.
 
“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.
 
“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”
 
  • Published in Nation

Free email ‘Message of The Day’

“The Message of The Day,” a new, professionally produced free video featuring a daily message from Pope Francis, is now available worldwide. 
 
The one-to-two-minute videos are created from the pope’s daily homilies. His messages, delivered to subscribers’ mailbox each morning, are inspirational and uplifting with positive content, designed to enrich and inform the Catholic and non-Catholic faithful in their everyday busy lives. 
 
Jesuit Father Edward J. Dougherty, CEO and Chairman of Kyrios Inc., said, “The Catholic Church needs to enchant its members, to be relevant to the lives of people today. We developed this project to promote our leader, to spread his positive messages and good news. Our beautifully produced videos are the perfect conduit for his messages. We want this to be accessible to millions of the faithful around the world bringing hope and inspiration.  Nothing else exists like this today.”
 
John S. Bolus, president and co-founder said, “We looked at the market and our audience and realized that people are getting their content in ways that are different from just a few years ago. The Smart Phone has eclipsed all forms of media. We built The Message of The Day service expressly for this, using the phones high-resolution multi-media browser to deliver an enriching, video experience.”
 
Kyrios Inc., a private U.S.-based communications company based in Reston, Va., developed the project in collaboration with and input from, Catholic communications authorities in Rome.
 
“The Message of The Day” is delivered on demand via a large sophisticated network, allowing media content to be delivered to a worldwide Church audience. This project is the first of its kind.
 
“The Message of The Day” is available at themessageoftheday.com.
 
 
  • Published in World
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