Book Break: Hope Is the Last to Die

In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.

As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession:  Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.

I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.

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Loose Ends and Lessons

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

This is my twentieth post related to the Sacred Heart in twenty-one days. As I mentioned in the first one, my motivation for this series was to break into bite-size pieces what promised to be a sprawling single post about how Christ has been drawing me toward His love and mercy via His Sacred Heart (with a secondary motive of breaking through writer’s block to begin writing daily again).

The result has been bigger and more sprawling than I thought, with a longer timeline and deeper connections than expected. In this final, formal post of the series, I’ll share three last connections from along The Way. Continue reading

“Jesus, I Trust in You”

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

In yesterday’s post on spiritual fatherhood, I mentioned the loss of one of my Poland daughters following ski accident last January. Bethany, I learned, had a deep devotion to St. Faustina. That knowledge, coupled with discussions in my new men’s group about the number of families in our community in need of God’s love and healing, rekindled my own previous interest in Divine Mercy.

Then in February, while I was at a conference at St. John’s University, I received a text from a friend to pray for her brother,  a relatively young husband and father who had gone missing that morning. Continue reading

Spiritual Fatherhood

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Providentially my re-consecration readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory were focused on Mary’s gradual discovery of her vocation not just to be the mother of Jesus, but the mother of the whole Church and all Christians. The book drew my attention to one scripture passage in particular, Matthew 12:46-50.

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Fr. Gaitley explains that, among other things, this passage indicates the primacy of spiritual realities over physical realities, and in particular, spiritual parenthood over natural parenthood. Although the focus of his writing was Mary, on Father’s Day I couldn’t help but think in terms of St. Joseph and spiritual fatherhood. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 2: St. Faustina Kowalska

Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

St. Faustina Kowalska

“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina

faustinaBorn Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.

I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike  Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall. Continue reading